Amino Acids May Correct Sleep Issues Due To Traumatic Brain Injury
December 12, 2013

Amino Acids Can Correct Sleep Issues Due To Traumatic Brain Injury

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

New research appearing in the journal Science Translational Medicine has found that amino acids can help correct sleep disturbances in mice suffering from traumatic brain injuries.

In the study, experts from the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine and the Oregon Health and Science University report that these organic compounds could potentially be used as a dietary treatment for the millions of people affected by traumatic brain injuries or concussions.

The study authors investigated the use of something known as selected branched chain amino acids (BCAA). These amino acids are predecessors of the neurotransmitters glutamate and GABA, which help neurons communicate with each other while also helping to maintain the normal balance of brain activity.

“If this type of dietary treatment is proved to help patients recover function after traumatic brain injury, it could become an important public health benefit,” explained study co-leader Dr. Akiva S. Cohen, who was previously a member of a research team that demonstrated that a BCAA-rich diet helped restore cognitive function in rodents with brain injuries.

When they compared healthy mice with those with experimentally induced traumatic brain injuries, the researchers discovered that the injured ones were unable to stay awake for a long period of time. It was found that they had reduced activity among orexin neurons, which help to maintain the animals' wakefulness.

The findings, the authors said, are similar to studies showing decreased orexin levels in the spinal fluid of humans with brain injuries. However, the dietary therapy was found to help restore orexin neurons to a normal activity level, allowing the brain-injured creatures to remain awake for longer. Furthermore, EEG recordings also showed improved brain wave patterns in the mice that had been fed the BCAA diet.

“If further research confirms what this study suggests, we could develop a dietary supplement of these amino acids that could be a viable therapy to help people after a concussion,” said first author Dr. Miranda Lim, an assistant professor of pulmonary and critical care medicine, neurology and behavioral neuroscience at Oregon Health & Science University and a neurologist and sleep medicine specialist at the Portland VA Medical Center.

“These results in an animal model provide a proof-of-principle for investigating this dietary intervention as a treatment for TBI patients,” Cohen added. “If a dietary supplement can improve sleeping and waking patterns as well as cognitive problems, it could help brain-injured patients regain crucial functions.”

According to the researchers, an estimated two million Americans suffer from a traumatic brain injury every year. This accounts for one of the primary causes of disability amongst all age groups. Three-fourths of those cases are milder forms of injury such as a concussion, although even concussions can result in chronic neurological impairments, including cognitive, motor and sleep problems, the authors noted.