Penn Medicine: Dietary Amino Acids Relieve Sleep Problems after Traumatic Brain Injury in Animals

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Media Contact:Kim Menard | Kim.Menard@uphs.upenn.edu | 215-662-6183December 11, 2013

A new study suggests a potential dietary treatment - a cocktail of key amino acids that improved sleep disturbances caused by brain injuries in mice - for millions of people affected by traumatic brain injury (TBI)—a condition that is currently untreatable. The animal TBI study, conducted by a team of sleep and brain experts including researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), appears today in Science Translational Medicine.

Every year in the U.S., an estimated 2 million people suffer a TBI, accounting for a major cause of disability across all age groups. Although 75 percent of reported TBI cases are milder forms such as concussion, even concussion may cause chronic neurological impairments, including cognitive, motor and sleep problems.

The study was co-led by CHOP neuroscientist Akiva S. Cohen, PhD, a research associate professor of Pediatrics in Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine, and two experts in sleep medicine: co-senior author Allan I. Pack, MBChB, PhD, professor of Medicine and director of the Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania; and first author Miranda M. Lim, MD, PhD, formerly at the Penn Sleep Center, and now on faculty at the Portland VA Medical Center and Oregon Health and Science University.

The team investigated the use of selected branched chain amino acids (BCAA)—precursors of the neurotransmitters glutamate and GABA, which are involved in communication among neurons and help to maintain a normal balance in brain activity. Dr. Cohen's research previously showed that a BCAA diet restored cognitive ability in brain-injured mice. The current study was the first to analyze sleep-wake patterns in an animal model.

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