MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Beth A. Taylor, PhD
Director of Exercise Physiology Research, Hartford Hospital Associate Professor, Kinesiology
University of Connecticut
MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?
Response: Hydroxy-methyl-glutaryl (HMG) CoA reductase inhibitors (statins) are the most effective medications for managing elevated concentrations of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C). Although statins are generally well-tolerated, they are not without side effects, and mild central nervous system (CNS) complaints such as memory loss and attention decrements are the second most commonly reported adverse effect of these drugs.
Studies assessing cognitive effects of statins vary widely and have produced inconclusive findings. Despite the equivocal data on adverse cognitive side effects with statin therapy, in 2012 the FDA announced a safety label change for statins, based on published case reports of memory loss and confusion and data from the Adverse Events Reporting System. One possibility for these equivocal findings is that studies involving the effects of statins on cognition typically have assessed cognitive function using traditional cognitive tests, which may yield small effect sizes and demonstrate high intra-participant variability. This may explain the discrepancy between clinical trials and patient self-reports, and could be addressed by utilizing CNS tests that directly assess brain parameters.
To the best of our knowledge and literature review, this study is the first to investigate the effects of statins on the central nervous system by utilizing fMRI to assess brain neural activation in healthy adults treated with 80 mg atorvastatin or placebo.
We detected few changes attributable to statin therapy with standardized neuropsychological tests, a finding similar to that from previous clinical trials. However, participants on atorvastatin demonstrated altered patterns of neural activation on vs. off statin compared to participants treated with placebo. Unexpectedly, the treatment groups differed at both timepoints. The clinical implications of these findings are unclear and warrant additional clinical trials.