Stroke is one of the most devastating and prevalent modern diseases, but efforts to limit the amount of tissue damaged in the acute phase have been disappointing, highlighting the need for effective therapeutic interventions after neurologic damage has occurred. Recently, data from animal models and clinical trials have suggested that certain medications can up- or down-regulate plastic changes and recovery after stroke, possibly by influencing specific neurotransmitters in the brain. The most extensively studied drug in post-ischemic brain injury is amphetamine, which has produced promising results in animals and humans.
The proposed mechanism by which amphetamine enhances recovery is increased central levels of norepinephrine. While a growing body of evidence suggests that amphetamine has beneficial effects in stroke recovery, the limitations and side effects of this drug preclude its widespread use.The cardiovascular side effects and interaction of amphetamine with other drugs exclude approximately 80% of stroke patients from clinical trials of this drug. Furthermore, the addictive effects of amphetamine preclude its daily administration.
Given these limitations of amphetamine use in stroke patients, we propose in this pilot study to evaluate the efficacy of a selective inhibitor of norepinephrine reuptake, atomoxetine, known to be less toxic, more specific, and better tolerated than amphetamine. Atomoxetine is newly approved by the Food and Drug Administration for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), is a potent and selective inhibitor of presynaptic norepinephrine transporter and, unlike amphetamine, it has no drug abuse potential. We recently successfully completed a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, cross-over study of atomoxetine in 10 healthy subjects. We found that atomoxetine significantly increased use-dependent plasticity. However, there are no available data on the effects of atomoxetine on motor learning in stroke subjects in a clinical setting.
In this pilot study, we propose to collect sufficient data to evaluate the potential of atomoxetine plus physical therapy to promote beneficial effects in 20 chronic stroke patients, compared to physical therapy alone. The results of this proposed pilot study will allow us to a) study the effects of atomoxetine in stroke patients in a clinical setting, b) provide preliminary data that would support a large clinical trial of the effects of this drug in enhancing motor recovery in acute and chronic stroke patients, and c) better understand the role of neurotransmitters underlying post-ischemic recovery of motor function.