Can adjusting the levels of the amino acid GABA improve post-stroke recovery? Results are positive in this animal study, which has led to new hope for stroke patients.
Stroke is a leading cause of death worldwide. And even if the stroke victim survives, the disturbance in the brain’s blood supply—the stroke—can cause brain damage. While some people can and do make a near-complete recovery, many are left with disabilities such as the inability to understand or to speak, or the inability to move limbs on one side of the body.
This damage is often so severe that one third of stroke survivors are confined to nursing homes or institutions.
A Clarkson, B Huang, et al, researchers at the Department of Neurology, The David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, LA, USA, hoped to improve post-stroke recovery with drugs. They knew that, depending on the severity of the brain damage, the brain can repair itself after a stroke. The neurons in the brain re-map cognitive functions using non-damaged brain tissue.
The amino acid GABA is critical for this re-mapping process in the brain. GABA is the main neurotransmitter, which means it transmits the signals within the brain. GABA is actually synthesized in the brain, from the amino acid glutamate.
In this animal study, the researchers wanted to examine the brain’s ability to re-map if GABA levels were adjusted.
GABA studied in stroke trial
In this animal study, the researchers analyzed data from post-stroke mice. Stroke caused an increase in extrasynaptic GABA transmission. But when the GABA levels were decreased, the brains showed earlier, and more robust, motor recovery.
The researchers reported that timing is crucial when adjusting GABA levels. It can actually cause more brain damage if done too early. With the mice, the researchers found that delaying treatment until 3 days after stroke improved recovery.
The researchers concluded that targeting GABA helps the brain re-map its neural pathways, which enhances motor recovery. Targeting GABA is therefore a possible treatment in post-stroke recovery.
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