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Silencing the Brain May be Better than Stimulating it. The GABA Effect

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Cases of recovery from vegetative and minimally conscious state after the administration of various pharmacological agents have been recently reported. These agents include CNS depressants (zolpidem, baclofen, lamotrigine) and CNS stimulants (tricyclic antidepressants, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, dopaminergic agents, methylphenidate). The action of CNS depressants as awakening agents sounds paradoxical, as they are commonly prescribed to slow down brain activity in the management of anxiety, muscle tension, pain, insomnia and seizures. How these drugs may improve the level of consciousness in some brain-injured patients is the subject of intense debate. Here we hypothesize that CNS depressants may promote consciousness recovery by reversing a condition of GABA impairment in the injured brain, restoring the normal ratio between synaptic excitation and inhibition, which is the prerequisite for any transition from a resting state to goal-oriented activities (GABA impairment hypothesis). Alternative or complementary mechanisms underlying the improvement of consciousness may include the reversal of a neurodormant state within areas affected by diaschisis (diaschisis hypothesis) and the modulation of an informative overload to the cortex as a consequence of filter failure in the injured brain (informative overload hypothesis). A better understanding of how single agents act on neural networks, whose functioning is critical for recovery, may help to advance a tailored pharmacological approach in the treatment of severely brain injured patients.
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Keywords: Disorders of consciousness; GABA; minimally conscious state; vegetative state

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: August 1, 2014

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  • Current Pharmaceutical Design publishes timely in-depth reviews covering all aspects of current research in rational drug design. Each issue is devoted to a single major therapeutic area. A Guest Editor who is an acknowledged authority in a therapeutic field has solicits for each issue comprehensive and timely reviews from leading researchers in the pharmaceutical industry and academia.

    Each thematic issue of Current Pharmaceutical Design covers all subject areas of major importance to modern drug design, including: medicinal chemistry, pharmacology, drug targets and disease mechanism.
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