Ohio State scientists have discovered that an already approved and widely prescribed drug called gabapentin can help the brain repair itself after a stroke.
Gabapentin is currently used to control seizures and treat nerve pain, but in mice with strokes caused by blood clots, the drug helped the animals regain fine motor skills in their upper limbs, with sustained improvement even after stopping treatment.
The discovery builds on previous research, where researchers learned that gabapentin blocks a protein in the brain that can impede healing.
Over 600,000 people suffer a first stroke each year.
“When this protein is high, it disrupts neurological recovery,” Andrea Tedeschi, an assistant professor of neuroscience at Ohio State, said in a statement.
He compared the protein to a brake pedal in a car. Hitting the brakes won’t get you too far, no matter how hard you hit the accelerator.
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“If you start to let off the brake pedal and keep accelerating, you can speed up the recovery significantly,” Tedeschi said. “We believe this is gabapentin’s effect on neurons, and there is a contribution from non-neuronal cells that utilize this process and make it even more effective.”
Stroke recovery: An ischemic stroke is caused by a clot blocking the blood supply to a part of the brain, resulting in the death of brain cells in the affected area.
This can lead to long-term complications, including loss of muscle use, difficulty speaking and swallowing, and emotional and memory problems.
“Restoring these functions enables independent living and is therefore a high priority for stroke victims,” the researchers write in their study published in Brain.
According to the CDC, over 600,000 people experience a first stroke each year, meaning millions of people will need help to recover in the next few years alone.
Scientists have discovered that an already approved and widely prescribed drug called gabapentin can help the brain repair itself after a stroke.
The natural repair system: The first step in treatment for ischemic stroke is to restore blood flow as quickly as possible, but the researchers found that this crucial step had no impact on gabapentin’s effectiveness, as motor functions improved regardless of whether the mice did Drug received an hour or a day after stroke.
After the mice suffered a stroke, the neurons responsible for sending signals to the muscles controlled by the undamaged sides of their brains began to sprout axons to form new connections, in what was popularly known as “plasticity.” ‘ – the ability of different parts of the brain to adapt and repair damaged circuits and structures.
“The mammalian nervous system has some capacity for self-repair,” Tedeschi said, but not enough.
Injured neurons can become “over-excited,” triggering signals that can cause muscle contractions and pain. When a brain protein called alpha2delta2 becomes over-expressed after a damaging event like a stroke, it can contribute to this condition while also slowing axon growth.
A better solution: Gabapentin inhibits this protein, allowing nerve cells to regrow and reorganize more efficiently and effectively.
“We blocked the receptor with the drug and asked, will there be any more plasticity? The answer is yes,” said Tedeschi.
Gabapentin restored motor control of the forelimbs in mice.
Mice given gabapentin daily for six weeks regained fine motor skills in their forelimbs, which lasted up to two weeks after dosing ended; Control mice that did not receive gabapentin did not regain motor control.
Although it’s far from safe in humans, the researchers believe their study could be a first step towards finding a new use for an already approved drug. Because the drug is already so widely used and understood, human trials can be quicker and easier than with new drugs.
“These observations underscore the strong potential for repurposing gabapentinoids as a promising treatment strategy for stroke repair,” they wrote.
This article was originally published by our sister site Freethink.