Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Emily Singer

A View from Emily Singer

New Treatments for Brain Injury

Cells that have been largely ignored may be the best target.

  • November 17, 2008

Developing new treatments for brain injury has been notoriously difficult. Perhaps, new research suggests, scientists have been targeting the wrong kind of brain cells. Two studies presented Sunday at the Society for Neurosciences conference in Washington, DC, show that astroglial cells, a type of brain cell traditionally thought to support neurons, may provide an important target for new therapies.

While some of the neural damage that accompanies traumatic brain injury, such as that caused by car accidents or explosions, results from the impact of the accident, most of it unfolds over days, weeks, and perhaps even months after the injury, triggered by a chemical cascade that, in turn, triggers inflammation and cell death. Scientists would ideally like to develop a treatment that prevents this slow degeneration, but decades of research have so far left them empty-handed.

The red-blood-cell booster hormone erythropoietin (EPO), used therapeutically to treat anemia and illegally by endurance athletes, has unexpectedly emerged as a promising candidate over the past few years. Several studies in animal models show that it can protect against the cell death that accompanies traumatic brain injury in animals. Eli Gunnarson, of the Karolinska Institute, in Sweden, has now shown that EPO can protect against the swelling in traumatic injury as well, one of the most potentially damaging consequences of both brain trauma and stroke. Gunnarson’s group found that the drug works by targeting the astroglia (also known as astrocytes), closing down a channel that normally imports water into these cells. “People have underestimated the importance of astrocytes,” says Gunnarson.

In a second study, David Meaney and his colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, found that astroglia receive a flood of calcium right after injury, which previous research suggests is toxic to neurons. They then found a class of compounds that could block the flood by inhibiting a specific receptor on the cells’ surface, suggesting a new target for drug development.

Meaney adds that neurons may have proved a poor target for brain-injury therapies in the past because drugs that “block these receptors might also inhibit important physiological functions.” He says that the same may not be true of astroglia because of their different role in the brain.

Become an MIT Technology Review Insider for in-depth analysis and unparalleled perspective.

Subscribe today

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Rewriting Life

Reprogramming our bodies to make us healthier.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Bimonthly print magazine (6 issues per year)

    Bimonthly digital/PDF edition

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special interest publications

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Ad-free web experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning print magazine, unlimited online access plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Bimonthly print magazine (6 issues per year)

  • Insider Online Only {! insider.prices.online !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Unlimited online access including articles and video, plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.