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Inosine Helps Brain-Injured Monkeys Recover Fine Motor Control
Donna O’Donnell Figurski
My husband, David, is a traumatic brain injury survivor since 2005. He is physically disabled as a result of his brain injury. As a molecular biologist from Columbia University, David is always searching for ways to improve his own life after his brain injury. He recently stumbled on this exciting research project, and we wanted to share this hopeful concept with others.
Neither David nor I is a medical doctor, and we are not suggesting any medical solutions. We are only publishing this article for your information.
Inosine is a small molecule found in cells. Research with mice and rats has shown that inosine is released by stressed or damaged neurons. Inosine can turn on the genes for axon development. Axons are the long, threadlike membrane extensions needed for neurons to send an electrochemical message to other neurons. The new axons from undamaged neurons can rewire the brain (plasticity) to allow circuits to form that compensate for circuits lost from damage.
Adding inosine to neurons in culture stimulates the formation of more axons. Would inosine stimulate an increase in plasticity by increasing axon formation and thereby help recovery from brain injury? Consistent with this idea, neuroscientists found that rats recovered from brain injury better when inosine was present.
Now neuroscientists at Boston University report testing inosine’s effect on a primate – the rhesus monkey. The study was small (8 monkeys) because monkey experiments are expensive, but, despite the small number, the results were significant. At the beginning, all 8 monkeys could easily grasp food treats with their dominant hand. The part of the brain needed for the required motor skills in the dominant hand was then deliberately damaged in each monkey. The 8 brain-injured monkeys were divided into two groups: 4 monkeys were treated by giving them inosine, and 4 were given a placebo. The researchers didn’t know which monkeys were getting inosine and which were getting the placebo.
After 14 weeks of treatment, the monkeys were examined for their ability to grasp a food treat. Three of the four inosine-treated monkeys grasped the food with their dominant hand normally. Fine motor control in the hand seemed to be the way it was prior to the brain injury. In contrast, the placebo-treated monkeys retrieved their food by using a compensatory strategy. The placebo-treated monkeys still had a problem with fine motor control in the hand.
This preliminary study has extended evidence of the inosine benefit from mice and rats to a primate. The result indicates that inosine may one day benefit human victims of brain injury. Inosine is already in clinical trials for the treatment of multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s Disease. Inosine appears to be safe – athletes have taken inosine supplements for decades.
Strictly speaking, this experiment addressed recovery of only a specific movement. The brain injuries were highly controlled – all were nearly identical, and they were in a specific area of the frontal lobe that affects fine motor control of the hand. Inosine experiments of this type have only been done in animal models. But even with all these caveats, there is reason to be optimistic. Inosine treatment may become a common human therapy for brain injury. Clearly more research is needed before inosine is shown to be useful in the clinic. (Full story)
(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)
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