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Researchers uncover why neurons die following stroke

Researchers from the University of Buffalo believe they have discovered what kills the neurons in the brain following a stroke; a discovery which could pave the way to create new highly specific drugs for strokes and other brain injuries.

When the brain suffers a stroke, seizure or traumatic injury, there’s the potential for persistent widespread acidity to build up around the neurons. However, until now, what effect this acidity has on the brain’s ability to function, hasn’t really been understood. Now the Buffalo researchers have found at least some of the answers, as they’ve discovered that an elusive receptor in the brain may have an important role to play in the death of neurons from neurological diseases.

The study of brain receptors

The researchers studied a group of brain receptors (NMDA) known to be vital for learning and memory. From their studies, they found that one particular receptor, N3A, functions differently to all the other receptors in the NMDA family, and that dormant N3A receptors can be reactivated by this build up of acidity. This discovery led the team to suggest that, under normal conditions, these N3A receptors are dormant, which may go some way to explaining why other researchers have not previously observed them.

By exposing the N3A receptors to the kind of acidic conditions normally found after stroke, they reactivate and thus cause the neurons to develop a greater sensitivity to the neurotransmitter glutamate. Under certain conditions, this can cause the death of the neurons. The researchers also noted that there seems to be an abundance of these N3A receptors in the brains of people with schizophrenia, a finding which they expected as it’s associated with high acidity in the brain.

This current research has helped researchers to learn more about the N3A proteins which, despite having been discovered over 20 years ago, have proven to be difficult to understand. In fact, as so many researchers were unable to record any N3A activity within the neurons prior to this research, it was believed that perhaps they had no real relevance to brain activity at all. The researchers hope that this discovery would help them to find ways to prevent the extra acidity in the first place or to find ways to prevent the reactivation of the N3A proteins.

The research was published online in the March edition of Scientific Reports.

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