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New clue to treating brain abnormalities in premature infants found

Experts at the Children’s Research Institute, the academic arm of Children’s National Health System have found a key in a neurotransmitter, which appears to also act as a developmental signal.

Prematurity leads to a delay in the formation of white matter, or injury, in the brain and the extent of this injury is related to the degree of prematurity. But not enough is known about the underlying mechanisms. The levels of a neurotransmitter called GABA are significantly lower in the brains of premature babies indicating that it probably plays the role of a developmental signal.

Going a step further the Children’s Research Institute shows that it is possible to reduce GABA levels with medication, thereby enabling improved treatment of premature babies by reducing the impact of white matter injury.

“We found that drugs, which are used for treating for epilepsy among children can also be effective in modulating GABA levels in the brain and help repopulate cells that are crucial for normal brain development,” said co-author Joseph Scafidi, DO, a neonatal neurologist at Children’s National.

“Our findings indicate that further studies may enable us to harness the natural brain plasticity of newborns during important periods of development and as a result minimize the effects of brain injury in premature infants,” said senior author Vittorio Gallo, PhD, Director of the Center for Neuroscience Research at Children’s Research Institute.

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