An experimental chemotherapeutic compound called ABT-737 intended to treat various forms of cancer also appears to protect against cell death in mice after stroke, according to Nature Neuroscience.

In cancer cells the drug appears to work by triggering the cell’s apoptosis signaling cascade, mediated by proteins including the anti-apoptosic molecules, Bcl-2 and Bcl-xL. ABT-737 inhibits the action of these molecules, driving the cancer cells towards cell-death rather than survival.  In neuronal cells, however, a fragment of the Bcl-xL protein can activate apoptosis, especially after stroke, the researchers found.  When mice were treated with ABT-737 before or after an induced  stroke, the neurons were protected, and did not undergo the delayed death that is usually observed.

Researchers think that this Bcl-xL fragment could be a useful target for developing better drugs for stroke victims.

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