Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Mood disorder drug can help fixing nerve damage

Sometimes drugs have unusual properties, that allow them to be used for more than originally developed for. Lithium chloride, a form of salt, is such a drug. It is normally used to treat bipolar disorder, where patients suffer from mood swings ranging from depression to mania. Research from the Descartes University in Paris has shown it is effective in restoring nerves in mice. Because our body is more or less unable to repair the nervous system itself, finding drugs that do is highly relevant.

Scientists created a mouse model simulating human nerve damage. Patients with an impaired nervous system suffer from a wide variety of symptoms; the brain ultimately controls every part of the body, which means nerves conveying communication signals from and to the brain are of the utmost importance. In the study, mice had movement impairments, which the scientists attempted to repair using lithium chloride. The drug was administered orally, by putting it in the drinking water.

The mice that were used in the study were unable to move their whiskers, a sign of neurological damage. In the group that received the drug, whisker movement was fully restored in just eight days. However, mice that did not receive lithium chloride in their drinking water barely showed any whisker movement, even after 20 days. It appears that the drug is quite effective in restoring neurological function, which was confirmed by looking at the nerves themselves. The scientists found that drug treatment made the insulating sheath that normally surrounds nerves thicker, which is beneficial for speed of communication through the nervous system.
Using the mood disorder drug for nerve damage seems promising. However, there is no human patient data available yet. Because lithium chloride is already used, it is deemed to be safe, and that means clinical trials could start soon.Therefore, the drug could find its way to the clinic soon, for use in neurodegenerative diseases such as multiple sclerosis. It is not the first time a drug is useful for something totally different than what it was designed for. Scientists previously showed that a cancer drug can swiftly reverse Alzheimer's disease, which is also a neurodegenerative disease. 

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