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Potential Therapy to Prevent ‘Chemo Brain’ in Cancer Patients

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  • Chemo Brain refers to changes in memory and concentration after cancer treatments.
  • Chemotherapy agents can affect the neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin.
  • Scientists find new potential therapy to prevent Chemo brain in cancer patients.

Potential Therapy to Prevent ‘Chemo Brain’ in Cancer Patients

'Chemo brain' is a cognitive impairment that plagues up to a third of cancer patients following chemotherapy. A recent study from the University of Kansas found to suggest a potential therapy to prevent 'Chemo brain.'

Michael Johnson, associate professor of chemistry, said, "It's something doctors learned about because patients were complaining."


"Symptoms include visual and verbal memory loss -- so if you have a conversation with somebody, you may have difficulty recalling it. You might have attention deficit, so if you're trying to do taxes it might be difficult to focus. It also can result in a decline in processing speed, so it may be more difficult to think on your toes. You may have trouble remembering words. A whole array of things that can go wrong."

Biochemical Hallmarks of Chemo brain
  • High levels of hydrogen peroxide in the brain
  • Impaired release and uptake of neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin
Johnson said that this is one of the first studies to look at what happens to the neurotransmitter release due to chemotherapeutic agents.

He is also hopeful that this would open up treatment options down the road. The treatment possibility was presented at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society.

The findings were revealed from a behavioral study in rats designed by his colleague David Jarmolowicz from the Kansas University Department of Applied Behavioral Science.

Experiments were able to depict that "KU-32" compound developed by Brian Blagg, KU Professor of medicinal chemistry; this may prevent cognitive decline in rats caused by chemotherapy treatment.

The compound "KU-32" was found to work by inducing the heat shock response that would protect the cells and may counteract the damaging effects of hydrogen peroxide.

Johnson, said, "In our preliminary results, we found that hydrogen peroxide temporarily increases in the brains of chemotherapy-treated rats."

"Because hydrogen peroxide is a reactive oxygen species and potentially damaging, it may have an effect on cognitive function. Additionally, we may have a therapy that can serve as a preventative in order to treat it. We found that KU-32 prevents cognitive impairment, and our preliminary neurochemical data suggest that it may prevent increases in hydrogen peroxide production."

The latest findings on Johnson's investigation to chemotherapy-induced cognitive impairment may influence the release and uptake of central nervous system neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin.

Chemotherapy Agent Affecting the Neurotransmitters
The research study employed several electrochemical methods to find out how the chemotherapy agent carboplatin may affect dopamine and serotonin release events in rats.

The study findings showed a decline in the dopamine release by 42% in rats receiving the drug and around a 55% drop in the release of serotonin.

Johnson, said, "Dopamine is found in many regions of the brain but is particularly abundant in the striatum."

"The striatum receives inputs from other parts of the brain, such as the cortex, and filters out the unwanted inputs while amplifying the wanted inputs, which are translated into actions. Dopamine is a key player in how the striatum responds. We felt that alterations in dopamine release due to chemo could potentially play a role in cognitive impairment."

Serotonin is found to implicate in depression and cognitive function. Johnson also said that measuring the serotonin levels may show that chemotherapy agents are capable of acting on neurotransmitter systems other than dopamine.

The author concluded that the research work might help in developing therapies for chemobrain as well as other disorders that could impact cognitive function. Further investigation would help cancer patients.

What is Chemo Brain?
Changes in memory, concentration and how a person thinks after cancer treatment is referred to as Chemobrain.

Causes for Chemo Brain
  • Chemotherapy
  • Cancer treatments
  • Anxiety, fatigue, depression
  • Changes in cytokines (blood proteins)
How to Cope with Chemo Brain?
  • Exercise your brain with puzzles
  • Take enough rest and sleep
  • Eat a lot of vegetables
  • Follow the daily schedule
  • Don't try to multi-task
  1. Michael J. Sofis, David P. Jarmolowicz, Sam V. Kaplan, Rachel C. Gehringer, Shea M. Lemley, Brian S. Blagg, Michael A. Johnson, 'KU32 Prevents 5-Fluorouracil Induced Cognitive Impairment,' Behavioural Brain Research (2017); DOI : http://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbr.2017.03.042
  2. Chemo Brain - (https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/physical-side-effects/changes-in-mood-or-thinking/chemo-brain.html )
  3. What is Chemo brain? - (http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/cancers-in-general/cancer-questions/chemo-brain)

Source: Medindia

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