DUNDEE, Scotland, Sept. 22 (UPI) -- Inducing the brain's ability to protect itself could help doctors prevent further brain damage after a traumatic injury or stroke, according to a new study.
Neuronal networks in the brain act to prevent further damage after trauma, and researchers think they can induce the effect using benzodiazepines, suggesting a method of preventive treatment for certain patients, report researchers at the University of Dundee and University of Strathclyde.
Although the process is slow, and may not be useful immediately in all cases, the researchers say new knowledge of the brain's protective action could lead to better treatment for brain injury.
"If this network activity could be triggered clinically as soon as possible then major brain damage could be minimized and recovery periods shortened," Dr. Christopher Connolly, a neurobiology researcher in the University of Dundee's School of Medicine, said in a press release. "Although this is basic laboratory research, it does now re-open the door to the possibility of stopping ongoing brain damage."
For the study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers experimented with cultured hippocampal neurons, using microfluidic devices to deliver toxicity to the cells.
After injuring the brain cells, the researchers observed a previously unknown signaling mechanism that appeared to provide protection against toxicity spreading through the cells, suggesting a new therapeutic window doctors can use to limit brain damage.
"We have identified that neuronal networks react to an insult by sending rapid -- in minutes -- warning signals in an attempt to protect against the toxicity that causes brain damage," Connelly said. "If that could be recruited clinically then it would give us a tool to deploy quickly in cases where brain damage was a risk. Where we can't protect neurons quickly, we can recruit the help of surrounding neurons to do this for us. It is a case of, 'If you need a job done quickly, ask the expert,' and in this instance the experts are the neurons themselves."