The drug gabapentin shows promise in boosting functional recovery after a stroke

The primary treatment focus after an ischemic stroke, a stroke caused when a clot blocks blood flow and neurons die in the affected brain region, is re-establishing blood flow in the brain as quickly as possible. For some patients, this is accomplished through a combination of drug therapy and surgery which is then followed by weeks and often months of rehabilitation therapy to regain movement, speech and motor function.

New research in mice led by Andrea Tedeschi, PhD, assistant professor of Neuroscience at The Ohio State University College of Medicine shows the drug gabapentin currently prescribed to control seizures and reduce nerve pain, may enhance recovery of movement after a stroke.

“Gabapentin helps neurons on the undamaged side of the brain take up the signaling work of lost cells,” Dr. Teseschi says.

She and her team just published a study in the journal Brain that showed that daily gabapentin treatment for six weeks after a stroke restored fine motor functions in the animals’ upper extremities. Functional recovery also continued after treatment was stopped.

This work builds upon a 2019 study in which Dr. Tedeschi’s lab found in mice that gabapentin helped restore upper limb function after a spinal cord injury by blocking 
the activity of a protein that, when expressed at elevated levels after an injury to the brain or spinal cord, hinders re-growth of axons. Axons are the long, slender extensions of nerve cell bodies that transmit messages.
"Imagine this protein is the brake pedal and recovery is the gas pedal. You can push on the gas pedal but can’t accelerate as long as you’re also pushing on the brake pedal," Dr. Tedeschi says. "If you start lifting the brake pedal and continuously press on the gas, you can really speed up recovery. We think that is gabapentin’s effect on neurons, and there is a contribution of non-neuronal cells that tap into this process and make it even more effective."
Read more about how gabapentin affects specific motor neurons whose axons carry signals from the central nervous system to the body that tell muscles to move.