Researchers at Northwestern University have developed two compounds that may be effective in protecting against cerebral palsy, a condition caused by neurodegeneration that affects body movement and muscle coordination.
"The results were just stunning, absolutely amazing. There was a remarkable difference between animals treated with a small dose of one of our compounds and those that were not," said Richard B. Silverman, John Evans Professor of Chemistry in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern, who led the drug development effort.
The findings suggest that a preventive strategy for cerebral palsy may be feasible for humans in the future.
In the study, researchers found that none of the fetuses born to animals treated with the two compounds died; more than half of those born to untreated animals died.
Eighty-three percent of animals treated with one of the compounds were born normal, with no cerebral palsy characteristics.
Sixty-nine percent of animals treated with the other compound were born normal. There was no sign of toxicity in the treated animals, and their blood pressure was normal.
Cerebral palsy is caused by an injury to the brain before, during or shortly after birth, although it typically is not diagnosed until after the age of one.
The new compounds developed inhibit an enzyme found in brain cells that produces nitric oxide, thus lowering nitric oxide levels.
At normal levels, nitric oxide acts as a neurotransmitter and is important to neuronal functioning, but at high levels it has been shown to damage brain tissue. An overabundance of nitric oxide is believed to play a role in cerebral palsy.
The study has been published online by the journal Annals of Neurology.