Angiotensin is an important biological messenger which is involved in the control of thirst, blood pressure, fertility and behaviour. In Europe, the first-line treatment for high blood pressure is the use of drugs to decrease the effects of angiotensin. Since their introduction, however, it has become recognised that these drugs have interesting effects on patients' "quality of life" and mental function.
We, and others, have shown that angiotensin and related chemicals are able to alter learning, memory, mood and/or behaviour in humans and animals. The results have been sufficiently positive that a large clinical trial is now ongoing to assess the ability of a common antihypertensive medicine to delay the progression of disease in patients with early stage dementia.
An off-shoot of the research has been to explore whether potential treatments for dementia such as Alzheimer's disease might also be useful in children with impaired learning. In Europe, approximately 1 per cent of children suffer with foetal alcohol syndrome, a condition involving learning difficulties associated with excessive alcohol intake by their mothers during pregnancy. Research is now being undertaken to investigate whether the use of angiotensin-related treatments by the mother during pregnancy or by the infant soon after birth might be able to prevent the effects of the pre-natal alcohol exposure.