Researchers at Northwestern Medicine have discovered that an existing therapy frequently used to treat Alzheimer's disease might work on patients with Primary Progressive Aphasia (PPA), a type of dementia that destroys language and currently has no treatment.

To conduct the study, the researchers used brains of individuals who suffered from PPA and had the pathological diagnosis of Alzheimer pathology in the brain postmortem. Their brains were compared to those of cognitively normal individuals.

Chemical brain scans called positron emission tomography (PET) can determine if there is Alzheimer's Disease pathology in someone's brain while they are alive. This makes it possible to see if someone has the type of PPA associated with Alzheimer's disease or not, said the study by Northwestern Medicine, an integrated healthcare system that brings together physicians and researchers from award-winning facilities in the Chicago area.

The study found for the first time that individuals with PPA undergo the same loss of cholinergic neurons and axons in the forebrain as individuals with Alzheimer's. Therefore, they might also benefit from Alzheimer's treatment, according to a news release posted on the website of Northwestern University Wednesday.

Currently, Alzheimer's patients are treated with a class of drugs called cholinesterase inhibitors, which lessen Alzheimer's symptoms by preventing the breakdown of acetylcholine, a chemical messenger that contributes to learning and memory.

"The findings provide the basic scientific foundation to spur a clinical trial to test the treatment on patients with PPA," said senior author Changiz Geula, a professor of cell and molecular biology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

The study was published Wednesday online by Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.