Stroke recovery boosted by Prozac

Stroke is the third biggest killer disease in Ireland – over 2,000 people die per year – causing more deaths than breast cancer, prostate cancer and bowel cancer combined. Up to 10,000 people will suffer a stroke in Ireland this year and one in five people will have a stroke at some time in their life.

An unexpected new finding for antidepressant drugs and a very important one.

Findings from the largest study of selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and stroke report that giving stroke patients the antidepressant drug Prozac soon after the event helps their recovery from paralysis. A total of 118 French patients were involved in the study. The beneficial effects of the drug – more improvement in movement and greater independence – were seen after three months – helping patients gain independence. This finding suggests that this already licensed drug – also known as fluoxetine – could have a dual benefit in the treatment of acute ischemic stroke – that’s where blood flow and oxygen supply to the brain are impaired.

Antidepressant drugs can help neurons to grow

One theory about how antidepressants may help brains recover more quickly from stroke is that they encourage neurogenesis – the creation of new neurons – in particular in the hippocampus – a brain region implicated in emotion especially anxiety – an emotion which can wear down even the most resilient person.

The ability of antidepressant drugs to increase neuron growth and connections – brain plasticity – is a promising pathway for treatment of patients with ischemic stroke and moderate to severe motor deficit. It’s a controversial theory and so far it only appears to hold true in young mice. In middle-aged and older mice, no such neurogenesis was observed – so there may be another mechanisms operating. 

One thing is for sure – it’s an important finding and I hope we’ll see more work on this.