Ambien is typically used to treat sleep disorders, however its ability to increase a neurotransmitter in the brain led researchers to test its effects on stroke recovery. Photo by DEA/Wikimedia
STANFORD, Calif., Dec. 18 (UPI) -- In experiments with mice, researchers found a low dose of zolpidem, sold as Ambien, sped up the rodents' recovery after having two different types of stroke, according to a new study.
Researchers at Stanford University saw the mice return to their pre-stroke abilities after being given the drug. Despite its effect on mice, the researchers caution that mice typically recover most of their functions after having a stroke, unlike many humans.
The inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA, secreted by nerve cells in the brain to temporarily prevent other nerve cells from propagating impulses, is typically released at synapses, where the bulk of signaling occurs. Nerve cells feature GABA receptors elsewhere on their surfaces, however, and extrasynaptic GABA signaling, as it is called, has previously been shown to impede stroke recovery in animals.
The Stanford researchers decided to investigate the effects of common synaptic GABA signaling after stroke, using Ambien with mice because the drug is known to increase GABA production.
"Before this study, the thinking in the field was that GABA signaling after a stroke was detrimental," said Dr. Gary Steinberg, professor and chair of neurosurgery at Stanford University, in a press release. "But now we know that if it's the right kind of GABA signaling, it's beneficial. And we've identified an FDA-approved drug that decisively promotes the beneficial signaling."
The researchers induced strokes in mice that caused either severe sensory damage or impaired movement greatly, treating the mice with either a sub-sedative dose of Ambien or a solution that did not contain the drug.
Since most stroke patients are not treated early enough to prevent damage, researchers said it was important not to treat the mice until the damage was done, and waited three days before administering the drug, or placebo.
Mice treated with Ambien were more effective in tests -- the speed they could remove a piece of tape from one of their paws and their ability to traverse a horizontal rotating beam -- earlier than mice that had not received the drug.
The researchers cautioned that while Ambien helped mice recover more quickly, mice typically regain normal function over time after a stroke, which is not always the case with people. They note, however, the experiment shows GABA levels can be beneficial to stroke patients.
The study is published in the journal Brain.