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Nerve drug against harmful structural changes

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Gabapentin could play an important role in order to prevent structural changes of the autonomic nervous system. This nervous system controls involuntary body functions such as heart rate and blood pressure. Spinal cord injury also disrupts the autonomic nervous system and can trigger uncontrolled autonomic reflexes, leading to severe complications. Autonomic dysfunction is a major problem for people living with high spinal cord injury. They can experience cardiovascular complications, which can lead to severe problems like heart attack or stroke. Another serious issue is a long-term immune suppression, which can lead to recurrent infections like pneumonia. There is no known treatment and symptoms can only be managed with medications.

Treatment in the early phase
A group of neuroscientists led by Dr. Phillip Popovich (Ohio State University, USA) found out that these issues arise from remodeling and plasticity of the nerve circuits. After uncovering the mechanism of these structural changes, the researchers focused on a drug that could target it: gabapentin. The hope is that gabapentin is a first treatment that prevents autonomic dysfunction in the early phase after injury.

Application in humans
As of now, the application of gabapentin for the described condition cannot yet be recommended for patients. First, the presented experiments need to be confirmed in humans. If that is the case, gabapentin could significantly improve the quality of life for individuals living with spinal cord injuries.

This study was published in the journal Cell Reports and was supported by Wings for Life.

Source: Brennan FH, Noble BT, Wang Y, Guan Z, Davis H, Mo X, Harris C, Eroglu C, Ferguson AR, Popovich PG. Acute post-injury blockade of α2δ-1 calcium channel subunits prevents pathological autonomic plasticity after spinal cord injury. Cell Reports 34, 108667, January 26, 2021.

You can find out more on the spinal cord and the influence of its damage on the human body in our basic-information. Wings for Life Glossary gives an understanding of scientific terms.