Submitted by Bill St. Clair on Sun, 28 Aug 2011 13:30:50 GMT  <== Science/Technology ==> 

Steve Boggan at The Guardian - A doctor in South Africa gave a common sleeping pill to a comatose patient, with the intention of quieting his arm twitches. Guy woke from his expected permanent coma. No idea of long-term affects yet, but zolpidem has awoken many people in persistent vegetative states. Nobody knows why, but it works.

No one yet knows exactly how a sleeping pill could wake up the seemingly dead brain cells, but Nel and Clauss have a hypothesis. After the brain has suffered severe trauma, a chemical known as Gaba (gamma amino butyric acid) closes down brain functions in order to conserve energy and help cells survive. However, in such a long-term dormant state, the receptors in the brain cells that respond to Gaba become hypersensitive, and as Gaba is a depressant, it causes a persistent vegetative state.

It is thought that during this process the receptors are in some way changed or deformed so that they respond to zolpidem differently from normal receptors, thus breaking the hold of Gaba. This could mean that instead of sending patients to sleep as usual, it makes dormant areas of the brain function again and some comatose patients wake up.

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