Novel imaging method allows researchers to view strokes on a molecular level

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New research led by scientists at the University of Missouri School of Medicine could accelerate stroke care by using imaging to track enzyme formation inside the brains of stroke victims in real-time, according to results of a study recently published in the Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow and Metabolism.

Ischemic strokes, which occur when a blocked artery prevents blood from getting to the brain, account for nearly 90 percent of all strokes, according to the American Heart Association. Research has shown this type of blockage to be associated with an activity spike in certain enzymes at the point of obstruction within the brain, according to lead author and associate professor Zezong Gu, PhD.

"During an ischemic stroke, harmful enzymes called gelatinase become overactive in areas of the brain where blood flow is cut off," Gu said in a university press release. "Over-activation of these enzymes causes brain damage. Our team hypothesized that if we could visualize and track this activity in real-time, we could then work on developing a way to block the activity and prevent brain damage from occurring."

Zu and his fellow researchers used peptides tagged with contrast agents designed specifically to recognize and track gelatinase activity, allowing them to view ischemic strokes in both cell and mouse models in real-time.

"Once the tagged peptides traveled to the site of increased gelatinase activity, they were absorbed into the cells with this activated enzyme," Gu said. "When enough of these peptides were absorbed, the stroke site was visible on an MRI. Using this method, we successfully tracked gelatinase activity."

The research could lead to dramatic improvements in the timeliness and effectiveness of stroke treatments and reduce the human impact of the damage caused by ischemic stroke.