DALLAS July 1, 2008 The current standard practice of giving infants and children 100 percent oxygen to prevent brain damage caused by oxygen deprivation may actually inflict additional harm, researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center have found.
Brain damage caused by oxygen deprivation, known as hypoxic-ischemic brain injury, is one of the most common causes of death and long-term neurological damage among infants and children. This can happen during birth trauma, near drowning and other crises.
The UT Southwestern researchers found that mice treated with less than a minute of 100 percent oxygen after a hypoxic-ischemic brain injury suffered far greater rates of brain-cell death and coordination problems similar to cerebral palsy than those allowed to recover with room air.
"This study suggests 100 percent oxygen resuscitation may further damage an already compromised brain," said Dr. Steven Kernie, associate professor of pediatrics and developmental biology and senior author of the study, which appears in the July issue of the Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow & Metabolism.
Most of the damage involved cells that create myelin, a fatty substance that insulates nerve cells and allows them to transmit electrical signals quickly and efficiently. Infants have much less myelin than adults; as myelin develops in children they become more coordinated. Areas of the brain with dense areas of myelin appear white, hence the term "white matter."
"Patients with white-matter injuries develop defects that often result in cerebral palsy and motor deficits," Dr. Kernie said.
Myelin comes from cells called glial cells, or glia, which reach out and wrap part of their fatty membranes around the extensions of nerve cells that pass electrical signals. The brain creates and renews its population of glial cells from a pool of immature cells that can develop into mature glia.
In their study, the researcher
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UT Southwestern Medical Center