Amino Acid Research for Concussions

Here is a press release from the University of Pennsylvania, Perelman School of Medicine regarding some initial research into amino acids and the effect on recover from brain injury, in particular concussions.  (I was forwarded this information via email, I cannot find it on the Penn website, but I have since found the exact copy over at; UPDATE: The opening of the press release was written by the wonderful author/owner of, Jean Rickerson.

Concussions are often called the “invisible” injury because they are usually not detectable by the average CT scan or MRI.  Even so, it is often very apparent that something is wrong.  That “something” is often defined as a metabolic imbalance, created by the impact of the brain against the skull. Healing means waiting for potassium, calcium, and glucose to return to their rightful places and proportions in the brain.

Amino acids may lend a helping hand.

In animal studies, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania discovered that administering three different amino acids restored the neurochemical balance and cognitive ability affected by the injury.

Peter LeRoux, MD, FACS, associate professor of Neurosurgery in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, was awarded a 3-year, $250,000 Dana Foundation Clinical Neuroscience grant, to conduct a study using branch chain amino acids to treat concussion in athletes.

This translational effort started in the basic science laboratory of Akiva S. Cohen, PhD, associate professor of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Pediatrics at Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. In an animal model of brain injury, Dr. Cohen’s team found that feeding three branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), specifically leucine, isoleucine and valine, to brain-injured animals could restore a proper balance of neurochemicals in the injured part of the brain and restore cognitive abilities after injury.

BCAAs are needed to produce two neurotransmitters — glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, which function together to maintain an appropriate balance of brain activity. Glutamate excites neurons, stimulating them to fire, while GABA inhibits the firing. Too much excitement or, too little, and the brain doesn’t work properly. A TBI upsets the balance.

With this grant funding from the Dana Foundation, Dr. LeRoux and colleagues Akiva Cohen and Penn Neurology resident Matthew Kirschen MD, PhD, will continue investigation of dietary BCAAs in patients with sports related concussion.

This is the first time that any faculty member in Neurosurgery at Penn has received a grant from the Dana Foundation, the private philanthropic organization that supports clinical research in neuroscience and neuroimmunology and their interrelationship in human health and disease.


Penn Medicine is one of the world’s leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the nation’s first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $4 billion enterprise.

Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine is currently ranked #2 in U.S. News & World Report’s survey of research-oriented medical schools and among the top 10 schools for primary care. The School is consistently among the nation’s top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $507.6 million awarded in the 2010 fiscal year.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System’s patient care facilities include: The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania — recognized as one of the nation’s top 10 hospitals by U.S. News & World Report; Penn Presbyterian Medical Center; and Pennsylvania Hospital – the nation’s first hospital, founded in 1751. Penn Medicine also includes additional patient care facilities and services throughout the Philadelphia region.

Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community-based programs and activities. In fiscal year 2010, Penn Medicine provided $788 million to benefit our community.

One thought on “Amino Acid Research for Concussions

  1. brokenbrilliant January 5, 2012 / 19:49

    Amazing stuff. Adding this to the “mix” of potential approaches to managing concussion could be truly significant. I will be very interested to hear about the results.

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