18 July 2010

Stimulation of the brain may prevent or lessen the extent of a stroke

An article linked at a Neatorama post this week is sufficiently exciting, in my view, that it deserves a repost here.  Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, have reported that stimulating the whiskers of a rat may prevent a stroke. Here are the main findings, as summarized in the abstract:
Here we demonstrate that, after permanent occlusion of a major cortical artery (middle cerebral artery; MCA), single whisker stimulation can induce complete protection of the adult rat cortex, but only if administered within a critical time window. Animals that receive early treatment are histologically and behaviorally equivalent to healthy controls and have normal neuronal function. Protection of the cortex clearly requires reperfusion to the ischemic area despite permanent occlusion. Using blood flow imaging and other techniques we found evidence of reversed blood flow into MCA branches from an alternate arterial source via collateral vessels (inter-arterial connections), a potential mechanism for reperfusion. These findings suggest that the cortex is capable of extensive blood flow reorganization and more importantly that mild sensory stimulation can provide complete protection from impending stroke given early intervention. Such non-invasive, non-pharmacological intervention has clear translational potential.
The findings are discussed briefly in lay terms in a UC Irvine press release:
So should we be tickling our own whiskers? And what about women, who are less likely to have facial hair? While it’s too soon to tell if the findings will translate to humans, researchers say it’s possible, and stubble is not required. We have sensitive body parts wired to the same area of the brain as rodents’ fine-tuned whiskers.  In people, “stimulating the fingers, lips or face in general could all have a similar effect...”

The team discovered that mechanically stroking just one whisker for four minutes within the first two hours of the blockage caused the blood to quickly flow to other arteries...

People believed to be suffering a stroke are currently told to lie still and stay calm in a quiet environment. Frostig says a good massage, listening to a song or otherwise stimulating the right nerve endings might work better...
I would guess that arteriosclerotic cerebral arteries of elderly humans might be less responsive than those of rats, but the concept is still exciting. 

Via Neatorama.

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