We have mentioned before studies that link dementia and eventually Alzheimer’s with a traumatic brain injury, so this recently published study from the University of Rochester Medical Center on BrightSurf.com was of some interest.
Statins, also known as HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors, are a class of drugs used to lower cholesterol levels by inhibiting the enzyme HMG-CoA reductase. While their benefits for cholesterol control are impressive, we are more interested in their effect on brain cells and the possible application to damaged brain cells.
According to this study, neuroscientists have found that statins encourage glial progenitor cells to “shed their flexibility and become one particular type of cell”. Glial cells provide important support and protection for neurons (nerve cells that process and transmit information) by holding them in place, supplying them with oxygen and nutrients while destroying pathogens and removing dead neurons. Basically they take care of your brain’s housekeeping, which allows your communicating cells to work efficiently and without obstruction.
Progenitor cells can be compared to adult stem cells, but according to Wikipedia, they are “in the center” between stem cells and (a) fully differentiated cell”. They are particularly important as they have the ability to self renew and also “mobilize” towards a variety of dead or damaged tissue where they “differentiate” into the target cells creating new growth
So as you can see, glial progenitor cells have a lot of potential benefits to offer the damaged brain. The key researchers named in this article are Steven Goldman, M.D., Ph.D. and Fraser Sim, Ph.D. who found the evidence of statin drugs having an effect on brain cells. Their findings are based on experiments performed on brain cell cultures, but not on people, so there needs to be more research done before they will be able to suggest the use of statins on damaged cells.
They used simvastatin and pravastatin, two commonly used statins, on glial progenitor cells and found that both statins “spur glial progenitor cells to develop into oligodendrocytes”. What does this mean? Oligodendrocytes are basically the providers of insulation (myelin) for the nervous system, which allows for efficient conduction (in simplistic terms!).
To use the author’s example, picture a group of young, talented baseball players – “The Rochester team discovered that statins essentially push most of the raw talent in one direction.” The “direction” is towards becoming oligodendrocytes that, with their production of myelin, have the potential to repair damaged cells.
While “spurring” these cells into oligodendrocytes sounds like a great idea for improving damaged areas of the brain, the researchers note potential problems. These glial progenitor cells hang out in the brain, uncommitted, until they are needed for repairs, but if statins are used to deplete them, scientists don’t know how the brain will respond to their loss. Will more be developed or will this actually cause more damage than it repairs?
These questions need to be considered, and scientists are working on it. For now, it’s good to hear about yet another area of potentially promising research that maybe applied to brain damage.