Gabapentin may boost functional recovery after a stroke
The drug gabapentin, currently prescribed to control seizures and reduce nerve pain, may enhance recovery of movement after a stroke by helping neurons on the undamaged side of the brain take up the signaling work of lost cells. The experiments mimicked ischemic stroke in humans, which occurs when a clot blocks blood flow and neurons die in the affected brain region.

This work builds upon a 2019 study in which Tedeschi's lab found in mice that gabapentin helped restore upper limb function after a spinal cord injury. The primary treatment focus after an ischemic stroke is re-establishing blood flow in the brain as quickly as possible, but this research suggests that gabapentin has no role at that acute stage: The recovery results were similar whether the treatment started one hour or one day after the stroke.

Instead, the drug's effects are evident in specific motor neurons whose axons carry signals from the central nervous system to the body that tell muscles to move. After the stroke in study mice, the researchers observed, neurons on the undamaged, or contralateral, side of the brain began sprouting axons that restored signals for upper extremity voluntary movement that had been silenced by neuron death after the stroke. This is an example of plasticity, the central nervous system's ability to fix damaged structures, connections and signals.

Results 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, the researchers found.