Improving post-stroke rehabilitation with neurotransmitter

March 11, 2011, Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
Brain connectivity following the administration of reboxetine. Credit: C. Grefkes, MPI for Neurological Research

In many patients, fine motor skills remain impaired after a stroke. A recent study has shown that the neurotransmitter noradrenaline may be able to reduce such deficits. This finding could result in the development of a new therapeutic approach to the post-stroke rehabilitation of patients.

As part of the study carried out by Christian Grefkes from the Max Planck Institute for Neurological Research in cooperation with scientists from the Institute of Neurosciences and Medicine of the Forschungszentrum Jülich and the Department of Neurology of the University Hospital of Cologne, eleven stroke patients (between 42 and 74 years old) with fine motor deficits carried out a range of motor tasks which involved the determination of maximum grip power and finger-tapping frequency and the execution of pointing movements.

The researchers influenced the dwell time of the naturally released noradrenaline by administering reboxetine (RBX) to the patients. This substance slows down the reuptake of the transmitter by neurons and hence extends its stimulating effect on coupling within the cortical motor network. As a control condition, some patients were given a pill that looked the same, but contained no active substance (placebo).

On the behavioral level, the extended dwell time of the noradrenaline prompted an improvement in the patients’ performance of simple motor tests: while grip power in the affected hand increased by a factor of four on average, the finger-tapping frequency doubled – this represents a remarkable improvement from both the patients’ and neurologists’ point of view. As indicated by functional magnetic-resonance imaging scans (fMRI), the improvements in motor performance were associated at cortical level with a normalisation of the previously abnormally increased brain activity – particularly in the motor areas of the damaged brain hemisphere. These processes were accompanied by greater communicative efficiency between the hand area and the brain’s motor control centers.

Max Planck junior scientist Christian Grefkes is optimistic about the results: “The findings of our study could provide a starting point for the development of a promising new therapeutic approach to the correction of defects in brain networks and improvement of hand motor functions following a stroke”. The plan is now to test reboxetine on a larger group of patients over a period of several weeks to establish the sustainability of the improved effects.

More information: Ling E. Wang, et al. Noradrenergic Enhancement Improves Motor Network Connectivity in Stroke Patients. Ann Neurol. 2010 Dec 28; DOI:10.1002/ana.22237

Related Stories

Recommended for you

New neurons in the adult brain are involved in sensory learning

February 23, 2018
Although we have known for several years that the adult brain can produce new neurons, many questions about the properties conferred by these adult-born neurons were left unanswered. What advantages could they offer that ...

Do you see what I see? Researchers harness brain waves to reconstruct images of what we perceive

February 22, 2018
A new technique developed by neuroscientists at the University of Toronto Scarborough can, for the first time, reconstruct images of what people perceive based on their brain activity gathered by EEG.

Neuroscientists discover a brain signal that indicates whether speech has been understood

February 22, 2018
Neuroscientists from Trinity College Dublin and the University of Rochester have identified a specific brain signal associated with the conversion of speech into understanding. The signal is present when the listener has ...

Superagers' youthful brains offer clues to keeping sharp

February 22, 2018
It's pretty extraordinary for people in their 80s and 90s to keep the same sharp memory as someone several decades younger, and now scientists are peeking into the brains of these "superagers" to uncover their secret.

Study in mice suggests personalized stem cell treatment may offer relief for multiple sclerosis

February 22, 2018
Scientists have shown in mice that skin cells re-programmed into brain stem cells, transplanted into the central nervous system, help reduce inflammation and may be able to help repair damage caused by multiple sclerosis ...

Nolan film 'Memento' reveals how the brain remembers and interprets events from clues

February 22, 2018
Key repeating moments in the film give viewers the information they need to understand the storyline. The scenes cause identical reactions in the viewer's brain. The results deepen our understanding of how the brain functions, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.