Riluzole, a glutamate modulator, slows cerebral glucose metabolism decline in patients with Alzheimer's disease

Dawn C. Matthews, Xiangling Mao, Kathleen Dowd, Diamanto Tsakanikas, Caroline S. Jiang, Caroline Meuser, Randolph D. Andrews, Ana S. Lukic, Jihyun Lee, Nicholas Hampilos, Neeva Shafiian, Mary Sano, P. David Mozley, Howard Fillit, Bruce S. Mcewen, Dikoma C. Shungu, Ana C. Pereira

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Dysregulation of glutamatergic neural circuits has been implicated in a cycle of toxicity, believed among the neurobiological underpinning of Alzheimer's disease. Previously, we reported preclinical evidence that the glutamate modulator riluzole, which is FDA approved for the treatment of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, has potential benefits on cognition, structural and molecular markers of ageing and Alzheimer's disease. The objective of this study was to evaluate in a pilot clinical trial, using neuroimaging biomarkers, the potential efficacy and safety of riluzole in patients with Alzheimer's disease as compared to placebo. A 6-month phase 2 double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study was conducted at two sites. Participants consisted of males and females, 50 to 95 years of age, with a clinical diagnosis of probable Alzheimer's disease, and Mini-Mental State Examination between 19 and 27. Ninety-four participants were screened, 50 participants who met inclusion criteria were randomly assigned to receive 50 mg riluzole (n = 26) or placebo (n = 24) twice a day. Twenty-two riluzole-treated and 20 placebo participants completed the study. Primary end points were baseline to 6 months changes in (i) cerebral glucose metabolism as measured with fluorodeoxyglucose-PET in prespecified regions of interest (hippocampus, posterior cingulate, precuneus, lateral temporal, inferior parietal, frontal); and (ii) changes in posterior cingulate levels of the neuronal viability marker N-acetylaspartate as measured with in vivo proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy. Secondary outcome measures were neuropsychological testing for correlation with neuroimaging biomarkers and in vivo measures of glutamate in posterior cingulate measured with magnetic resonance spectroscopy as a potential marker of target engagement. Measures of cerebral glucose metabolism, a well-established Alzheimer's disease biomarker and predictor of disease progression, declined significantly less in several prespecified regions of interest with the most robust effect in posterior cingulate, and effects in precuneus, lateral temporal, right hippocampus and frontal cortex in riluzole-treated participants in comparison to the placebo group. No group effect was found in measures of N-acetylaspartate levels. A positive correlation was observed between cognitive measures and regional cerebral glucose metabolism. A group × visit interaction was observed in glutamate levels in posterior cingulate, potentially suggesting engagement of glutamatergic system by riluzole. In vivo glutamate levels positively correlated with cognitive performance. These findings support our main primary hypothesis that cerebral glucose metabolism would be better preserved in the riluzole-treated group than in the placebo group and provide a rationale for more powered, longer duration studies of riluzole as a potential intervention for Alzheimer's disease.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3742-3755
Number of pages14
Issue number12
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2021


  • Alzheimer's disease
  • cerebral brain metabolism
  • glutamate
  • riluzole


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