June 22, 2009
A vitamin supplement composed of several different forms of folate may help prevent or even treat the brain defect hydrocephalus in children, according to a study conducted by researchers from the universities of Lancaster and Manchester, England, and published in the Journal of Neuropathology and Experimental Neurology.
“Hydrocephalus can cause severe disability and learning difficulties, so the possibility of prevention through a specific vitamin supplement is exciting,” said Andrew Russell, head of the Association for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus.
In hydrocephalus, cerebrospinal fluid abnormally gathers in the brain’s cavities, placing pressure on the tissues and leading to neurological dysfunction. Symptoms include an unusually large head, irritability, sleepiness, vomiting, drooping eyes, verbal aggression, hyperactivity and other abnormal behavior, and even seizures.
There is currently no cure for the condition, which is normally treated by installing shunt to divert the fluid from the brain to the heart or abdomen. These shunts must be cleaned with several surgeries throughout a lifetime, however, to prevent blockage and infection.
In the current study, researchers found that a folate mixture led to significant reductions in the rates of fluid buildup in the brains of hydrocephalic rats. They also found that the symptom’s conditions might come less from pressure caused by cerebrospinal fluid, and more from its chemical composition.
“Cerebrospinal fluid is not a liquid which simply cushions the brain and carries chemicals around it,” lead researcher Jaleel Miyan said. “It is actively produced and transported and plays an essential biological role in developing the brain.”
The researchers are now seeking to partner with a pharmaceutical company that can make the supplement into a pill, which can then be used in human clinical trials.
Folic acid, the naturally occurring form of folate, is known to prevent against neural tube defects such as spina bifida but has not proven effective in preventing hydrocephalus.
“There are so few things we can currently do to decrease the incidence of birth defects so these findings are really to be welcomed,” said Imogen Montague of the United Kingdom’s Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.