Uric acid may help reduce effects of spinal cord injury, Jefferson researchers find

Increasing levels of uric acid, a metabolic breakdown product found in blood and urine, may help cut some of the potentially devastating "secondary" cellular damage that occurs following a spinal cord injury, say researchers at Jefferson Medical College. The finding may lead to new treatments for such injuries.

After a spinal cord injury, the body's inflammatory response may actually make things worse, releasing a variety of potentially harmful chemicals that can make the injury more severe. J. Craig Hooper, Ph.D., associate professor of microbiology and immunology at Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia and at Jefferson's Kimmel Cancer Center and his colleagues there and at the University of Messina in Italy looked at whether uric acid treatment could actually prevent some of this secondary damage following such an injury in mice. Uric acid was known to reduce inflammation damage related to a compound call peroxynitrite.

They found that mice that received uric acid just before and right after an experimental spinal cord injury recovered motor function both faster and to a greater extent than mice that received only saline. Subsequent tests found that the uric acid actually prevented inflammation and some damage. Tests in cell culture showed that uric acid protected spinal cord neurons from peroxynitrite-related damage. The scientists report their findings Feb. 14, 2005 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

According to Dr. Hooper, secondary spinal cord damage the so-called destructive cascade begins within a few hours after the initial injury. "The effect is driven by nonspecific cells such as neutrophils," he explains, a type of white blood cell and a key player in the body's inflammatory response to injury. "We know neutrophils make peroxynitrite, which is a major trigger in opening the blood-brain barrier."

Dr. Hooper says peroxynitrite is known to contribute to cell damage in


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