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Alzheimer's Drug May Reduce Preemie Brain Injury

Memantine could protect newborns with compromised blood, oxygen supply, study suggests

TUESDAY, June 24 (HealthDay News) -- The Alzheimer's drug memantine (brand name Namenda) may help reduce a form of brain injury that affects many premature babies, according to a Children's Hospital Boston study.

Hypoxic-ischemia, a compromise of the brain's blood and oxygen supply, can lead to cerebral palsy and cognitive/behavioral problems.

In experiments with rats that had brain injury similar to that seen in some premature infants, the Children's Hospital team found memantine could reduce damage to cells called oligodendrocytes, which form the brain's white matter.

Memantine blocks a type of glutamate receptor in the brain called the NMDA receptor. In premature babies, hypoxic-ischemia leads to over-activation of NMDA receptors, resulting in a pattern of white-matter brain injury called periventricular leukomalacia (PVL).

"The premature brain is not just a 'small' adult brain -- it is physiologically different and thus contains unique targets for therapy," senior investigator Dr. Frances Jensen said in a prepared statement. "The NDMA receptor in white matter may be one of those targets. We tested this target in the animal model, and we also show that it is present in the premature human brain."

The findings may help lead to a protective therapy for preterm infants. Currently, no such protective therapy exists.

The study was published in the June 25 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about PVL.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Children's Hospital Boston, news release, June 24, 2008

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