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Gout medication may boost brain recovery after stroke, study finds

Monday, June 9, 2014: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 1 pm EDT

OTTAWA _ A drug commonly prescribed to treat gout, called Probenecid or Probalan, promotes brain cell growth in mice after stroke, according to unpublished findings presented today at Advances in Stroke Recovery, a national research conference.

Findings could lead to fast-tracking the medication for use in people recovering from stroke, says researcher Dr. Leigh Anne Swayne of the University of Victoria. “It’s really exciting.”

Using rodent models, researchers found that Probenecid promoted some aspects of cell regeneration in the brain after stroke. Growth of new brain cells can lead to improvements to memory, learning and concentration.

“If we can enhance recovery, we’re going to improve quality of life,” says Dr. Swayne. “Not everyone who has a stroke gets to hospital right away; strengthening the brain’s ability to heal itself might have a big impact on those people.”

Probenecid has been a well-established treatment for gout since the 1950s. Gout is a painful buildup of uric acid in the joints, which leads to swelling. Probenecid reduces this swelling by encouraging the body to expel uric acid as waste.

The researchers, funded by the Heart and Stroke Foundation Canadian Partnership for Stroke Recovery, made the connection between gout and stroke because they “knew a target for Probenecid – the Pannexin 1 channel – was a major player in stroke,” says Dr. Swayne.

She emphasizes that further research is needed: “There are so many ways this channel might be affecting the brain, both during a stroke and after a stroke.”

Dr. Swayne and her team are also interested in the effect of Probenecid on brain cells around the stroke-damaged area. Preliminary data indicate that Probenecid not only encourages the growth of new brain cells, it may also help existing brain cells adapt to damage caused by stroke.

Findings are especially promising because Probenecid is already safe for human use, potentially making it available to people with stroke more quickly, Dr. Swayne says.

“This is a potentially exciting finding because it opens up the possibility of using a drug to enhance brain plasticity and thereby improve the level or rate of recovery beyond what is accomplished with rehabilitation,” says Dr. Dale Corbett, Scientific Director and CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation Canadian Partnership for Stroke Recovery.

“One of the most devastating effects of stroke is the loss of brain function caused by brain cells dying,” says David Sculthorpe, CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. “Innovative uses for existing treatments — perhaps even those for other illnesses— that could help reduce this cell death and enhance recovery following stroke are very intriguing.”

“It’s really exciting. This is one piece of a complex strategy to improve outcomes after stroke,” says Dr. Swayne.


The HSF Canadian Partnership for Stroke Recovery is a joint initiative of the Heart and Stroke Foundation and Canada’s leading stroke recovery research centres – Sunnybrook, Baycrest, Toronto Rehab, University of Ottawa, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and Memorial University. The Partnership is restoring lives through research. Learn more at


Cathy Campbell

Heart and Stroke Foundation Canadian Partnership for Stroke Recovery


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