Existing drugs used to treat depression and other mood disorders might be useful to limit brain damage following a stroke because they promote the growth of new nerve cells in the brain, according to a study in mice. The research is tantalizing because drugs that are known to spur nerve growth are already available and because there are few other options to mitigate the effects of stroke once brain damage has occurred.
Researchers at the Buck Institute for Age Research in Novato, Calif., compared stroke size and recovery in mice who were genetically altered and treated to either grow or not grow new neurons prior to stroke. The strokes in the animals that did not grow new neurons were 30% larger. The mice that did grow new neurons -- called neurogenesis -- showed improvement in motor function following the stroke.
It's not known exactly how new neurons improve stroke outcome. But the lead author of the study, Dr. David Greenberg, said in a news release: "Assuming that neurogenesis is also beneficial in humans, drugs approved by the FDA for other purposes and already shown to promote new neuron growth in rodents might be worth studying as a potential treatment for stroke in humans."
Studies still need to be conducted in humans. And, Greenberg cautions, people who have suffered strokes should not treat themselves with antidepressants or lithium without medical advice.
Further research will examine the effects of drugs that produce new nerve growth in other brain diseases, such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and Huntington's diseases.
The study is published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
-- Shari Roan
Photo credit: Advanced Cell Technology Inc.