New Ways for At-Risk Patients to Protect the Brain From Stroke

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When resources become compromised and the brain is without energy, a protein called AMPK could help to reduce electrical activity

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The brain's energy needs are vast. Of all the organs, it consumes the most glucose and oxygen by far, with the exception, perhaps, of the leg muscles when they are running long distances. But because the brain has almost no reserves, if energy supplies run low, stroke can occur.

Under normal conditions, the brain uses blood glucose and oxygen to fuel its many functions, the most central of which is to "fire" action potentials -- bursts of electrical energy. These action potentials can trigger the release of brain chemicals, or neurotransmitters, which allow neurons to communicate with one another. However, when the brain's blood supply becomes compromised because blood vessels become blocked over time, the brain may not have enough energy to fire action potentials, which can result in potentially serious brain damage.

But researchers have discovered a new way of protecting brain function when resources become compromised. A protein called AMPK, which is known to alter metabolism in other organs, can also reduce the electrical activity in the brain, and thereby reduce the risk for stroke. Though it may sound counterintuitive, reducing brain activity with medication is actually better than leaving it to its own devices and risking a full-blown stroke.

Giving the brain AMPK could reduce its energy requirements for a period of time, similar to putting an electric appliance into energy-saving mode. The thought is that the drugs that currently exist to target AMPK in other organs could be tweaked to target the brain's.

"It is better to work slowly than not at all," says study author Chris Peers. "It is possible that this discovery could, in the long term, lead to new treatments for patients who have problems with circulation to the brain, placing them at higher risk of conditions such as stroke."

Given the sensitive nature of this area, more research will clearly be needed before a medication would be available to the public. But the research brings hope that those at risk of having a stroke could one day reduce the odds or avoid it completely.

The study was carried out at the University of Leeds and published in the current issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Image: takito/Shutterstock.


This article originally appeared on TheDoctorWillSeeYouNow.com.

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Alice G. Walton, PhD, is a health journalist and an editor at The Doctor Will See You Now.

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