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Xenon halts effects of head injuries in mice

Published on 21/05/19 at 09:57am

Researchers at Imperial College London (ICL) and Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz have shown that xenon prevents early death and long-term cognitive impairment in mice with traumatic brain injuries (TBI).

TBI is the leading cause of death among those in developed countries under the age of 45. In cases of TBI, the primary injury, caused by the initial force is followed by a secondary injury which develops in the minutes, hours and days afterwards.

It is the secondary injury that is largely responsible for the mental and physical disabilities associated with TBI.

However researchers have shown that the anaesthetic drug xenon, given shortly after a TBI, prevents early death and long-term cognitive impairment and protects brain tissue itself in mice.

In a study, published in the British Journal of Anaesthesia, the researchers showed that xenon-treated mice had a similar life expectancy, cognitive function, and brain tissue integrity, to mice that had never sustained a TBI.   

The study saw mice separated into three groups: healthy control, TBI control and TBI xenon. Botht he mice in TBI xenon and the mice in TBI control were then subjected to a TBI using a controlled mechanical force. All of the mice later underwent learning and memory tests and 20 months and two weeks after the injury.

Mice in the TBI xenon group had the same life expectancy as those in the healthy control group. Meanwhile xenon prevented the loss of brain cells in the hippocampus, prevented degeneration of nerve fibres in the corpus callosum and reduced long term inflammation.

Lead author of the study, Dr Rita Campos-Pires, from the Department of Surgery & Cancer, said: "There is currently a huge gap in what treatment we can offer to patients who've suffered TBI - an injury which can impact all areas of their lives.

"Although xenon has not yet been tested for TBI in humans, our findings add to the growing body of evidence that suggests it could be used after head injuries to prevent secondary injury developing.

"Xenon appears to act in a variety of ways, but one of the most likely mechanisms to explain its protective effects on brain tissue is by inhibiting receptors in the brain known as NMDA receptors, that become over-activated following a brain injury."

Dr Dickinson from Imperial's Department of Surgery & Cancer, added: "We have looked at very long-term outcomes, up to 20 months after TBI in mice. This is very rarely done in animal studies and is equivalent to following up human TBI patients until their 80s. The finding that only a short treatment with xenon can have beneficial effects on cognition, survival, and brain damage almost two years later suggests that xenon might in future prevent cognitive decline and improve survival in human TBI patients."

Louis Goss

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