N-acetylcysteine Affects Electrical Activity in Brain

February 2, 2011 · Posted in Neurochemistry, Potential Treatments 

At the 65th Annual Scientific Convention of the Society of Biological Psychiatry, researcher Christian Carmeli reported that N-acetylcysteine (NAC, 2 gm/day for six months) increased electroencephalogram (EEG) synchrony over the frontal cortical and left temporal regions in patients with schizophrenia. The EEG measures the frequency and amplitude of electrical activity on both sides of the brain.

N-Acetylcysteine

N-Acetylcysteine

Editor’s note:  These data provide a neurophysiological mechanism that could explain the positive effects of NAC previously observed by researcher Mike Berk and associates in both schizophrenia and bipolar disorders and published in Biological Psychiatry in 2008. NAC is both a glutathione precursor providing antioxidant effects and a modulator of hyper-responsive glutamate reactivity in the n. accumbens or ventral striatum, the reward area of the brain. In placebo-controlled studies NAC appears effective in treating cocaine, heroin, and gambling addiction, as well as trichotillomania (compulsive hair-pulling). These effects are thought to be related to NAC’s dampening of glutamate responses in the n. accumbens, which, along with the dorsal striatum, appears to mediate habit memory.

The EEG findings are also of interest in relationship to data presented at the conference by Jeremy W. Gawryluk that bipolar patients have decreased glutathione in their prefrontal cortex. This included both total levels and those of reduced and oxidized levels of glutathione.  NAC, which is converted into glutathione, could help ameliorate these deficiencies. Whether the positive effects of NAC in bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are related to its antioxidant properties or to its dampening of cued glutamate hypersecretion in the n. accumbens remains to be further studied and clarified.

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