The chemistry of neuroprotection
“The presentations impressed upon me how much witchcraft and how little science has gone into the study of cryoprotectant agents (CPAs). This might be understandable in light of the fact that most cryobiologists are, in fact, biologists. I suspect that a great deal could be accomplished by a thorough study of the physics of the chemistry of CPAs.”
Such an observation could equally apply to the study of neuroprotectants in cerebral ischemia. There has been a growing literature investigating the potential of numerous molecules for the treatment of stroke and cardiac arrest. Although some approaches have been more successful than others, systematic reviews of the chemical and physical characteristics of effective drugs are lacking and discussion of the topic is often confined to isolated remarks.
A number of examples:
“It is not surprising that all the agents which are effective in shock carry a negative charge. This applies both to heparin, which possesses a very strong negative charge, and to hypertonic glucose solution. The same may be said about a substance now in wide use – dextran – which has small, negatively charged molecules, and also about the glucocorticoids 21, 17, and 11, which also have a negative charge.” – Professor Laborit in: Acute problems in resuscitation and hypothermia; proceedings of a symposium on the application of deep hypothermia in terminal states, September 15-19, 1964. Edited by V. A. Negovskii.
“We report that estrogen and estrogen derivatives within the hydroxyl group in the C3 position on the A ring of the steroid molecule can also act as powerful neuroprotectants in an estrogen-receptor-independent short term manner because of to their antioxidative capacity.” Christian Behl et al. Neuroprotection against Oxidative Stress by Estrogens: Structure-Activity Relationship. Molecular Pharmacology 51:535-541 (1997).
“Minocycline’s direct radical scavenging property is consistent with its chemical structure, which includes a multiply substituted phenol ring similar to alpha-tocopherol (Vitamin E)” – Kraus RL et al. Antioxidant properties of minocycline: neuroprotection in an oxidative stress assay and direct radical-scavenging activity. Journal of Neurochemistry. 2005 Aug;94(3):819-27.
“It is notable, however, that NAD+ and minocycline share a carboxamide and aromatic ring structure. A common structural feature of competitive PARP inhibitors is a carboxamide group attached to an aromatic ring or the carbamoyl group built in a polyaromatic heterocyclic skeleton. This structure is also present in each of the tetracycline derivatives with demonstrated PARP-1 inhibitory activity. Alano CC et al. Minocycline inhibits poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase-1 at nanomolar concentrations. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 2006 Jun 20;103(25):9685-90.
Systematic study of structure-activity relationship of neuroprotectants would not only contribute towards the development of a general theory of neuroprotection in cerebral ischemia, it would also contribute to the design of multi-functional neuroprotectants. Although it is now increasingly accepted that combination therapy offers more potential for successful treatment of stroke and cardiac arrest than mono-agents, parallel or sequential administration of multiple drugs present non-trivial challenges in research design and clinical application. Such problems may be better addressed by designing molecules with different mechanisms of action in the same structure, an approach that is currently recognized and investigated by forward-looking biomedical researchers.
Although the field of cerebral resuscitation has known some notable researchers like Vladimir Aleksandrovich Negovskii and Peter Safar, who devoted their lives to a thorough study of the mechanisms of cerebral ischemia and its treatment, the field as a whole shows a never ending stream of trial and error publications to investigate yet another drug (before moving on to other areas in neuroscience and medicine). Although there is an increased interest in meta-analysis of all these experiments, meta-analysis that places its findings in a broader biochemical and pharmacological context is rare.
The emphasis on theory and research design can be taken too far. As Nassim Nicholas Taleb recently argued, the role of design in biotechnology is overestimated at the expense of chance observations and unexpected directions. But in the area of cerebral resuscitation the risk of too much theory and systematization is low at this point. As evidenced by the successful development of vitrification agents with low toxicity in cryobiology, a committed long-term and systematical effort to find solutions to human medical needs can pay off.