WEDNESDAY, June 17, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- Hibernation induced by opioid drugs reduced brain damage and behavioral dysfunction in a study of rats that experienced an experimental stroke, researchers report.
"Studies in hibernating and active squirrels have shown that 'natural hibernation' has anti-ischemic effects," Cesar Borlongan, a neuroscientist at the University of South Florida Center for Aging and Brain Repair, said in a news release about the study. "We've shown that a drug that induces hibernation can achieve similar results."
Borlongan, along with colleagues at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, gave the rats a drug called [D-ala2,D-leU5] enkephalin (DADLE) -- which belongs to the same drug family as morphine and heroin -- and then induced a stroke in the rats by blocking cerebral artery blood flow.
After the stroke, the rats that received the drug did better on behavioral tests than rats that weren't given the drug before a stroke, the researchers found.
"DADLE prevented cell death processes and behavioral abnormalities," they wrote. "The observation that this substance, previously shown to induce hibernation, attenuated deficits inherent in cerebral ischemia provides a new pharmacological target for stroke therapy."
The study appears online in the journal BMC Biology.
The National Stroke Association explains the effects of stroke.