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Open Access Highly Accessed Commentary

Perispinal etanercept: Potential as an Alzheimer therapeutic

W Sue T Griffin

Author Affiliations

Geriatric Research, Education and Clinical Center, Neurobiology, Physiology, and Psychiatry, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, and the Geriatrics, Education Clinical Center, Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System, Little Rock, Arkansas 72205, USA

Journal of Neuroinflammation 2008, 5:3  doi:10.1186/1742-2094-5-3

Published: 10 January 2008

Abstract

Tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF) is one of a number of systemic and immunomodulating cytokines that generally act to promote acute-phase reactions but can drive degenerative changes when chronically elevated. Traditional focus on TNF has been directed at these inflammation-related functions. Of particular relevance to intersections between neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration is the ability of TNF to increase expression of interleukin-1 (IL-1), which in turn increases production of the precursors necessary for formation of amyloid plaques, neurofibrillary tangles, and Lewy bodies. More recent data have revealed that TNF, one of the few gliotransmitters, has strikingly acute effects on synaptic physiology. These complex influences on neural health suggest that manipulation of this cytokine might have important impacts on diseases characterized by glial activation, cytokine-mediated neuroinflammation, and synaptic dysfunction. Toward such manipulation in Alzheimer's disease, a six-month study was conducted with 15 probable-Alzheimer patients who were treated weekly with perispinal injection of Etanercept, an FDA-approved TNF inhibitor that is now widely used for treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and other systemic diseases associated with inflammation. The results demonstrated that perispinal administration of etanercept could provide sustained improvement in cognitive function for Alzheimer patients. Additionally, the authors were impressed by the striking rapidity with which these improvements occurred in the study patients. An example of this rapid improvement is presented in this issue as a case report by Tobinick and Gross. Such rapid gain of function inspires speculation about the role of gliotransmission or other equally rapid synaptic events in the relationship of TNF to Alzheimer-impacted neurophysiology. Because of the inability of large molecules such as etanercept to cross the blood brain barrier following conventional systemic administration, it is likely that the more direct drug delivery system pioneered by Tobinick also contributed to the effectiveness of the treatment. If so, this system could be useful in drug delivery to the brain in other neural disorders, as well as in animal research studies, many of which currently employ delivery strategies that inflict damage to neural cells and thus engender neuroinflammatory responses.