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With Amino Acid Diet, Mice Improve After Brain Injury
Date:12/8/2009

h function together to maintain an appropriate balance of brain activity. Glutamate excites neurons, stimulating them to fire, while GABA inhibits the firing. Too much excitement or, too little, and the brain doesn't work properly. A TBI upsets the balance.

In particular, a TBI frequently damages the hippocampus, a structure deep in the brain involved in higher learning and memory. In the current study, the researchers found that an injury to the hippocampus reduced levels of BCAAs. Although overall levels of glutamate and GABA were unchanged, the loss of BCAAs disturbed the critical balance of neurotransmitters in the hippocampus, making some localized regions more excitable and others less excitable. Cohen's team tested the hypothesis that providing dietary BCAAs would restore the balance in neural response.

In this study, Cohen's study team first created standardized brain injuries in mice, and one week later compared the animals' conditioned fear response to that of uninjured mice. A week after receiving a mild electric shock in a specific cage, normal mice tend to "freeze" when placed in the same cage, anticipating another shock. The brain-injured mice demonstrated fewer freezing responses -- a sign that they had partially lost that piece of learning.

On the other hand, brain-injured mice that received a diet of BCAAs showed the same normal response as the uninjured mice. The BCAA cocktail had restored their learning ability.

In addition to the behavioral results, the team conducted electrophysiological experiments in slices of hippocampus from brain-injured and non-injured mice, and showed that BCAA restored a normal balance of neural activity. "The electrophysiological results were consistent with what we saw in the animals' functional recovery," said Cohen.

If the results in mice can be reproduced in people, patients with traumatic brain injuries could receive the BCAAs in a drink. Cohen suggests that BC
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SOURCE The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
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