Hypoglycemia may affect newborn's brain cell function, says Hopkins researcher

Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, may have a significant effect on activity patterns in a newborn's brain, say researchers at Johns Hopkins Children's Center and St. Christopher's Hospital for Children in Philadelphia. Their study of piglet brains, which are metabolically and structurally close to that of humans, is reported in this month's Brain Research.

"While some researchers question whether hypoglycemia in infants has long-term detrimental health effects on the brain, we believe it does," says Children's Center neonatologist Jane McGowan, M.D., the paper's lead author. "Both learning and memory may be affected by any alteration of the ability of the brain to make synapses."

McGowan and her collaborators found that low blood sugar levels altered the ability of some neurotransmitter receptors to bind glutamate. These glutamate receptors are known to play an important role in the formation of synapses needed for normal brain function. McGowan suggests hypoglycemia and subsequent changes in the behavior of these glutamate receptors may affect the ability of the brain to develop normally. The causes of hypoglycemia in human infants are diverse, but it most often occurs because a mother is diabetic or if there is an interruption in the baby's own sugar storage processes.

The researchers studied two kinds of glutamate receptors, the kainate and N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors, so-called because each receptor specifically binds one of the two glutamate-like molecules. Kainate and NMDA are chemicals typically used to assess glutamate receptor activity in neurological experiments. Using a protocol approved by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee at MCP Hahnemann University, the research team sustained hypoglycemia in piglets (3 to 6 days old) for two hours with insulin injections. Researchers then extracted brain tissue from six hypoglycemic piglets and six piglets with normal blood sugar levels. After isolating brain cell membr

Contact: David Bricker
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions

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