Irvine, Calif., Month July 7, 2010 Talk about surviving by a whisker. The most common type of stroke can be completely prevented in rats by stimulating a single whisker, according to a new study by UC Irvine researchers.
Strokes are the No. 3 cause of death in the U.S., after heart disease and cancer. About 795,000 Americans suffer them annually, according to the American Heart Association, and more than 137,000 die as a result.
So should we be tickling our own whiskers? And what about women, who are less likely to have facial hair? While it's too soon to tell if the findings will translate to humans, researchers say it's possible, and stubble is not required. We have sensitive body parts wired to the same area of the brain as rodents' fine-tuned whiskers.
In people, "stimulating the fingers, lips or face in general could all have a similar effect," says UCI doctoral student Melissa Davis, co-author of the study, which appears in the June issue of PLoS One.
"It's gender-neutral," adds co-author Ron Frostig, professor of neurobiology & behavior.
He cautions that the research, funded by the National Institutes of Health, is a first step, albeit an important one. "This is just the beginning of the whole story," he says, "with the potential for maybe doing things before a victim even reaches the emergency room."
A stroke usually happens when a main artery bringing oxygen and nutrients to the brain either ruptures or is blocked by a clot, causing partial brain death. The key to preventing strokes in rats whose main cerebral artery has been obstructed, UCI researchers found, is to stimulate the middle part of the brain.
The team discovered that mechanically stroking just one whisker for four minutes within the first two hours of the blockage caused the blood to quickly flow to other arteries like cars exiting a gridlocked freeway to find detours.
But unlike freeway off-ramps, which
|Contact: Janet Wilson|
University of California - Irvine