How magnesium sulphate benefits preterm babies

By Rob Clancy, staff writer. Reviewed by Dr Robert Galinsky

Robert Galinsky, Research Group Head, Perinatal Inflammation and Neurophysiology at Hudson Institute
Dr Robert Galinsky

Being born too soon exposes babies to many dangerous health conditions, and researchers are tackling one of them by finding out how magnesium sulphate can protect the health of the preterm brain.

Dr Robert Galinsky and his team at Hudson Institute work on understanding how inflammation impacts development of the immature brain, and how to prevent or treat the many problems that can arise in babies exposed to infection/inflammation around the time of birth.

“These problems can manifest in conditions such as cerebral palsy, bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD), necrotising enterocolitis (NEC) and more,” Dr Galinsky said.

“So we are identifying drug targets that can help improve brain development and function in these babies.”

Protecting babies with magnesium sulphate

Preterm baby in hospital holding mums finger

Magnesium sulphate is a drug that is often administered to pregnant women to slow premature labour, prevent seizures and protecting the brain of the preterm fetus, but little is known about exactly how it works, and recent studies have identified gaps in knowledge about which babies should receive this treatment.

In their latest study, published in The Journal of Physiology, the team discovered that the beneficial effects of magnesium sulphate are limited to babies deprived of oxygen in the womb.

They showed that magnesium sulphate reduces brain inflammation and excitotoxicity (an excess of certain neurotransmitters that causes damage to nerve cells) – two key mechanisms that lead to protection of the white matter (myelin sheath) in the preterm brain.

Promotes long-term improvement

“Ours is the first large study to show magnesium sulphate promotes a long-term improvement in brain inflammation and myelination,” Dr Galinsky said.

“We know that magnesium sulphate is recommend for fetal neuroprotection globally but until now there was a lack of knowledge around which babies would benefit.”

“The evidence from this study supports the use of magnesium sulphate for reducing brain inflammation and improving myelination in preterm infants deprived of oxygen,” he said.

Collaborators | University of Auckland

This research was supported by | NHMRC, HRC

Journal | The Journal of Physiology

Title | Magnesium sulphate reduces tertiary gliosis but does not improve EEG recovery or white or grey matter cell survival after asphyxia in preterm fetal sheep

DOI | 10.1113/JP284381

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