News Release

PHILADELPHIA — A new study suggests a potential dietary treatment - a cocktail of key amino acids that improved sleep disturbances caused by brain injuries in mice - for millions of people affected by traumatic brain injury (TBI)—a condition that is currently untreatable. The animal TBI study, conducted by a team of sleep and brain experts including researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), appears today in Science Translational Medicine.

Every year in the U.S., an estimated 2 million people suffer a TBI, accounting for a major cause of disability across all age groups. Although 75 percent of reported TBI cases are milder forms such as concussion, even concussion may cause chronic neurological impairments, including cognitive, motor and sleep problems.

The study was co-led by CHOP neuroscientist Akiva S. Cohen, PhD, a research associate professor of Pediatrics in Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine, and two experts in sleep medicine: co-senior author Allan I. Pack, MBChB, PhD, professor of Medicine and director of the Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania; and first author Miranda M. Lim, MD, PhD, formerly at the Penn Sleep Center, and now on faculty at the Portland VA Medical Center and Oregon Health and Science University.

The team investigated the use of selected branched chain amino acids (BCAA)—precursors of the neurotransmitters glutamate and GABA, which are involved in communication among neurons and help to maintain a normal balance in brain activity. Dr. Cohen's research previously showed that a BCAA diet restored cognitive ability in brain-injured mice. The current study was the first to analyze sleep-wake patterns in an animal model.

The National Institutes of Health (grants HL0077113, HL111725-01A1, NS069629 and HD059288) supported this study, as well as the University of Pennsylvania Department of Medicine/Measey Research Fellowship. Cohen and CHOP hold a provisional U.S. patent for the use of BCAA as a therapy for traumatic brain injury.

For more information, please see CHOP’s news release.

Penn Medicine is one of the world’s leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, excellence in patient care, and community service. The organization consists of the University of Pennsylvania Health System and Penn’s Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine, founded in 1765 as the nation’s first medical school.

The Perelman School of Medicine is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $550 million awarded in the 2022 fiscal year. Home to a proud history of “firsts” in medicine, Penn Medicine teams have pioneered discoveries and innovations that have shaped modern medicine, including recent breakthroughs such as CAR T cell therapy for cancer and the mRNA technology used in COVID-19 vaccines.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System’s patient care facilities stretch from the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania to the New Jersey shore. These include the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, Chester County Hospital, Lancaster General Health, Penn Medicine Princeton Health, and Pennsylvania Hospital—the nation’s first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional facilities and enterprises include Good Shepherd Penn Partners, Penn Medicine at Home, Lancaster Behavioral Health Hospital, and Princeton House Behavioral Health, among others.

Penn Medicine is an $11.1 billion enterprise powered by more than 49,000 talented faculty and staff.

Share This Page: