New method can help prevent brain damage in newborn infants

Researchers at Sahlgrenska Academy have through experiments on mice identified a substance that can help save newborns from persistent brain damage.

Birth asfyxia means that the baby suffers from a combination of lack and oxygen and reduced blood supply during or prior to delivery. In severe cases, asphyxia can lead to the development of persistent brain damage, so called hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy.

The brain damage is lethal in some newborns, those who survive have a high risk of developing persistent neurological complications, such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy or mental retardation.

Treated by cooling

Children with hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy are treated by cooling which means reduction of body temperature to between 33 and 35oC for up to 72 hours. However, of eight children treated only one is saved from the development of severe disability.

New treatment shows good result in mice

Team of researchers led by Associate Professor Marcela Pekna from The Sahlgrenska Academy at University of Gothenburg performed experiments in which they injected mice with a molecule (called C3a peptide) 1 hour after asphyxia. Their results showed that this treatment prevented asphyxia-induced learning deficit when the mice were tested more then a month later.

“The C3a peptide is part of the innate immune response called complement that is best known for its role in protecting us against pathogenic bacteria. Our study shows that complement is an interesting target for the treatment of brain damage caused by birth asphyxia”, says Marcela Pekna.

Goal: Minimize disability  

The Sahlgrenska Academy team is now planning to test various routes of administration of the C3a peptide not only after neonatal hypoxia-ischemia but also after experimental stroke. Their goal is to minimize disability of children suffering from neonatal hypoxia-ischemia and improve functional outcome of ischemic stroke patients.

The study Receptor for complement peptide C3a: a therapeutic target for neonatal hypoxic-ischemic brain injury was published in The FASEB Journal on the 2nd of September.

Link to the article

Assoc. Prof. Marcela Pekna,Sahlgrenska Academy, Institute of neuroscience and Physiology, Laboratory of Regenerative Neuroimmunology
[email protected]

Severe cases of birth asphyxia can lead to acute brain damage, so called hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy. This condition is caused by the disruption of blood flow and oxygen delivery to the brain prior to or during delivery and occurs in 1-2 of 1000 live term births. Recent advances in critical care and therapeutic cooling have improved the survival rate of infants affected by hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, but approximately 40% of the survivors develop neurological complication such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy or mental retardation.


BY: Krister Svahn
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