Milking performance from damaged brains

From Las Vegas, at a meeting of the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine

Given intravenously, a molecule found in breast milk can improve mental function in people with dementia and in victims of stroke and traumatic brain injury.

Researchers at the University of Palermo in Italy tested the molecule, called glycerophosphocholine (GPC), for its effect on neurological functioning in 2,044 stroke victims. GPC improved the patients’ performance by 27 percent compared with patients not given the treatment, the scientists reported in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.

In 12 separate trials by different research groups, GPC also significantly improved memory, attention, and orientation in people with various forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. And mice given GPC recovered from induced brain injuries more quickly than untreated mice, says Parris M. Kidd, a biologist at Crayhon Research, a Reno, Nev., company that sells brain nutritional supplements.

GPC works by increasing the number of receptors on brain cells for nerve growth factor, a signaling protein that spurs production and survival of nerves. GPC can readily cross the blood-brain barrier, a layer of cells that surrounds blood vessels in the brain and controls which proteins and other large molecules can pass from the blood to nerve cells. These cells can also convert GPC into choline, which they then use to make acetylcholine, a chemical messenger that carries signals between nerves.