The journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences recently published a study that found that the red tide toxin that kills marine life and causes coughing and sneezing in humans could potentially be used to create drugs that could help victims of stroke or other traumatic brain injuries. According to the study, the neurotoxin could recover brain function. These types of traumatic brain injuries are currently non-treatable conditions.
Red tide is a bloom of microscopic algae, called_ Karenia brevis_, that produces brevetoxin. In high concentrations, it causes death to millions of fish, and has even killed manatees. It also costs Florida beach businesses tens of millions in tourist dollars when it comes to visit. It’s found primarily in the Gulf of Mexico, along the west coast of Florida, though cases pop up in other parts of the Southeast U.S.
The neurotoxin packs its punch by causing nerve cells to fire spontaneously, but by toning down the effect, the same mechanism has been shown to stimulate nerve cell growth in cultured mouse cells, the study found.
The results are raising hope among researchers that brevetoxin could be used to rewire a stroke or traumatic brain injury patient’s brain. It’s essentially speeding the growth of tree-like cell structures and synapses that brain cells use to communicate with each other. Besides that, brevetoxin also has been shown to dial up the performance of receptors in the brain that are an essential component of a brain’s ability to learn.