Alzheimer’s Drug May Reduce the Urge to Binge Eat

According to a new study by Boston University School of Medicine researchers.

Memantine, a neuroprotective drug typically prescribed to Alzheimer’s patients, may perform what Boston University School of Medicine researchers are calling “double-duty.” Scientists there found that drug may help binge eaters control their compulsive behavior.

In a new study published online in the journal, Neuopsychopharmacology, researchers at BUSM
showed that memantine may reduce the addictive and compulsive tendencies associated with binge eating. The study also also found that an area of the brain responsible for these addictive behaviors—the nucleus accumbens—is what makes it possible for the memantine drug to work.

According to the study:

Binge-eating disorder is a prevalent illness in America, affecting more than 10 million people. It is characterized by periods of excessive uncontrolled consumption of food, followed by uncomfortable fullness and feelings of self-disgust. New evidence indicates that changes in brain chemistry reflecting the addictive nature of binge eating may parallel drug and alcohol addiction.
Using an experimental model to simulate binge-eating behavior, researchers were able to identify the area of the brain associated with binge-eating and then suppress the behavior by applying memantine directly into that area.

“We found that memantine, which blocks glutamate NMDA receptors, blocks binge eating of junk food, blocks the strength of cues associated with junk food and blocks the compulsivity associated with binge eating,” says the study’s senior author Pietro Cottone, PhD, an associate professor of pharmacology and psychiatry at BUSM and co-director of the Laboratory of Addictive Disorders.

Because memantine is already approved for other uses, the study’s authors note that this new finding will open new doors for binge eating treatments and research. “Individuals with binge eating disorder have a very poor quality of life and decreased lifespan. Our study gives a better understanding of the underpinning neurobiological mechanisms of the disorder,” says study co-author Valentina Sabino, PhD, assistant professor of pharmacology and psychiatry at BUSM and co-director of the Laboratory of Addictive Disorders.