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Study: Strokes damage blood-spinal cord barrier

Damage to the spinal cord just below the brain was found to play a major role in the long-term fallout from a stroke.

By Stephen Feller
Study: Strokes damage blood-spinal cord barrier
Damage to the blood spinal cord barrier plays a role in the long-term damage from a stroke, researchers found in experiments with mice. Photo by CLIPAREA l Custom media/Shutterstock

TAMPA, Fla., June 13 (UPI) -- Damage to the blood-spinal cord barrier close to the brain may exacerbate fallout from a stroke, according to new research.

Researchers at the University of South Florida found ischemic stroke damaged parts of the cervical spinal cord on both sides of the spinal column in experiments with mice, suggesting cell damage and death in the area make the after-effects of a stroke worse.

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The blood-spinal cord barrier, or BSCB, protects the environment for neural cells in the spinal cord. Damage to this barrier, a major feature of most forms of stroke, plays a significant role in the development of impaired motor function and other pathological conditions.

The results of the study need to be tested in humans, but confirming BSCB damage in the cervical spinal cord -- which runs from the base of the brain to about the bottom of the neck -- in humans as the cause of motor function problems, cell degeneration and damage to tight junctions between cells could lead to better treatment for stroke patients, the researchers said.

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"These novel data showing BSCB damage in subacute and chronic ischemic stroke may lead to development of new therapeutic approaches for patients with ischemic cerebral infarction," Dr. Paul Sanberg, a distinguished professor in the college of medicine, molecular pharmacology and physiology at the University of South Florida, said in a press release.

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For the study, published in the Journal of Neuropathology and Experimental Neurology, researches studied the effects of subacute and chronic ischemic stroke on the spinal columns of mice to find what occurred in the area following a stroke.

At seven and 30 days after stroke, the mice showed damage to gray and white matter on both sides of the spinal column in the cervical spinal cord, including damage to neural cells called astrocytes, loss of motor neurons, reduced integrity of proteins between barrier cells and swollen axons whose connections to the brain were damaged.

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Additionally, the researchers found proteins meant to help with repair were at far lower levels, which they say could also affect spinal cord function adding to long-term impairment and damage.

"This study, carried out using laboratory rats modeling stroke, demonstrated that ischemic stroke -- in both its subacute and chronic stages -- damages the BSCB in a variety of ways, creating a toxic environment in the spinal cord that can lead to further disability and exacerbate disease pathology," said Dr. Svitlana Garbuzova-Davis, an associate professor in the Center of Excellence for Aging and Brain Repair at the University of South Florida. "The aim of our study was to evaluate post-stroke BSCB condition that might lead to the development of more effective therapies for stroke survivors."

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