New therapy improves cognitive function in people with Down syndrome

There’s a potential breakthrough in improving cognition for people with Down syndrome.

A promising new pilot study published in the journal Science has good news regarding a potential therapy for people with Down syndrome.  The researchers have reported GnRH injections led to improved cognitive function and brain connectivity in six out of the seven patients enrolled.

About Down syndrome

More formally known as trisomy 21 (for the extra genetic material from chromosome No. 21), Down syndrome is a genetic disorder that causes:

• developmental delays

• intellectual disability

• a distinct facial appearance

It may also be linked with heart and thyroid disease. Approximately 3 out of 4 people with Down syndrome experience symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s disease as they age, including the gradual loss of the ability to smell.

Although there is no cure, scientists recently revealed a dysfunction of the GnRH neurons in animal models that impairs cognitive function. With this in mind, they set out to test the efficacy of GnRH injection therapy on seven men (ages 20-50) with Down syndrome.

The Research

Teams from the Lille Neuroscience & Cognition laboratory and Lausanne University Hospital partnered to restore physiological GnRH system function to determine if that would restore cognitive and olfactory functions in mice with trisomy. After 15 days, the mice had regained their sense of smell and improved their cognitive function.

The researchers repeated the treatment on the seven men, who received one does of GnRH every two hours for six months through a pump on their arm.

Although the men had not regained their ability to smell after the six months, six out of seven of the patients had increased their cognitive performance in:

• reasoning

• attention

• episodic memory

• understanding instructions

• three-dimensional representation

The cognitive improvements were confirmed through brain imaging, which showed a significant increase in functional connectivity.

With no negative side effects, a larger study that includes women may soon be in the works.


Wendy Burt-Thomas writes about the brain, mental health and parenting.

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