Update on Alzheimer's Disease Therapy and Prevention Strategies

Annu Rev Med. 2017 Jan 14:68:413-430. doi: 10.1146/annurev-med-042915-103753.


Alzheimer's disease (AD) is the primary cause of age-related dementia. Effective strategies to prevent and treat AD remain elusive despite major efforts to understand its basic biology and clinical pathophysiology. Significant investments in therapeutic drug discovery programs over the past two decades have yielded some important insights but no blockbuster drugs to alter the course of disease. Because significant memory loss and cognitive decline are associated with neuron death and loss of gray matter, especially in the frontal cortex and hippocampus, some focus in drug development has shifted to early prevention of cellular pathology. Although clinical trial design is challenging, due in part to a lack of robust biomarkers with predictive value, some optimism has come from the identification and study of inherited forms of early-onset AD and genetic risk factors that provide insights about molecular pathophysiology and potential drug targets. In addition, better understanding of the Aβ amyloid pathway and the tau pathway-leading to amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles, respectively, which are histopathological hallmarks of AD-continues to drive significant drug research and development programs. The main focus of this review is to summarize the most recent basic biology, biochemistry, and pharmacology that serve as a foundation for more than 50 active advanced-phase clinical trials for AD prevention and therapy.

Keywords: amyloid; cognitive impairment; dementia; neurodegeneration; neurofibrillary tangle; plaque.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology*
  • Alzheimer Disease / drug therapy
  • Alzheimer Disease / physiopathology*
  • Alzheimer Disease / therapy*
  • Amyloid beta-Peptides / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Cholinesterase Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy
  • Memantine / therapeutic use
  • Metabolic Diseases
  • Microglia / physiology
  • Molecular Chaperones / metabolism
  • Neurofibrillary Tangles / drug effects
  • Neurofibrillary Tangles / metabolism
  • Neurogenic Inflammation / drug therapy
  • Neuroimmunomodulation
  • tau Proteins / metabolism


  • Amyloid beta-Peptides
  • Cholinesterase Inhibitors
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists
  • Molecular Chaperones
  • tau Proteins
  • Memantine