Amino Acids Improve Sleep in Mice with Traumatic Brain Injury

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Amino Acids Improve Sleep in Mice with Traumatic Brain Injury 

A study by Oregon Health and Science University, published in Science Translational Medicine, discovered a way to fix sleep disturbances in mice suffering from traumatic brain injury.  These results are important, because people commonly experience long-term and severe sleep and wakefulness issues after suffering concussions, a mild form of traumatic brain injury. The research hinged on feeding mice branched chain amino acids, something humans naturally produce from food.  Dr. Miranda Lim, first author of the study, hopes that further studies will uphold the results found, and a dietary supplement prescribed as a viable therapy for concussions could be developed.

Nearly two million people in the US suffer traumatic brain injury every year, and nearly 72% have sleep disturbances.  Sleep problems are not only frustrating, but physically harmful.  The lack of rest impairs attention and memory formation for TBI patients, who already have a higher rate of functional disability and higher cost of rehabilitation.  Treatments to remedy the dangerous swelling occurring after TBI exist, while underlying brain damage evident in sleep impairment as well as learning patterns remains without treatments.

The study compared mice with mild TBI to uninjured mice, and found the injured mice much less capable of staying awake for sustained periods of time.  Scientists pinned this on underactive orexin neurons, meant to maintain wakefulness, mirroring spinal fluid evidence of human TBI patients. The scientists gave the injured mice a dietary therapy of branched chain amino acids; the building blocks of neurotransmitters, chemicals released by neurons in the brain.  The results showed a restoration of normal orexin levels, and improved wakefulness.  This offers a proof-of-principle for dietary intervention as a treatment for TBI, and hopefully an avenue to help brain-injured patients regain cognitive functions.


1)     M. M. Lim, J. Elkind, G. Xiong, R. Galante, J. Zhu, L. Zhang, J. Lian, J. Rodin, N. N. Kuzma, A. I. Pack, A. S. Cohen. Dietary Therapy Mitigates Persistent Wake Deficits Caused by Mild Traumatic Brain Injury. Science Translational Medicine, 2013; 5 (215): 215ra173 DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3007092

2)     Oregon Health & Science University (2013, December 11). Dietary amino acids improve sleep problems in mice with traumatic brain injury. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 7, 2014, from­ /releases/2013/12/131211185331.htm

By: Emma Henson