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Published on 10 January 2012

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Experimental therapy may combat heat stroke

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AICAR, an experimental therapy once dubbed the ‘couch potato pill’ for its ability to mimic the effects of exercise in sedentary mice, may be able to prevent sudden death from heat stroke, according to results of a study published in the journal Nature Medicine.

“There is a great need for the training staff of athletic teams, physicians in emergency rooms, and soldiers serving in the deserts of the Middle East to have a drug available to give to individuals during a heat stroke event,” said Robert Dirksen, study author and Professor of Pharmacology and Physiology at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

“Our study takes an important first step towards developing a new drug therapy that may be part of the standard treatment regimen for heat stroke in the future.”

Researchers, led by Susan Hamilton, from Baylor College of Medicine, tested the drug in mice with a mutation in the RYR1 gene.

The mutation is associated with malignant hyperthermia. Unexpectedly, further work demonstrated that these mice exhibit similar uncontrolled muscle contractions during exposure to high temperatures or when exercising under warm conditions.

The team found that AICAR administration protected the mice from experiencing such contractions under heat stress.

If not stopped, the contractions cause muscles to break apart and release their contents, including potassium and proteins, into the blood.

High levels of potassium in the blood are extremely toxic and, if not treated quickly, can cause cardiac arrhythmias and death.

Nature Medicine



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