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Retina Works Best When Bathed in Vitamin C

GABA, the major inhibitory neurotransmitter in the retina and brain, "helps inhibit runaway excitation by neurons, and vitamin C, it seems, keeps the inhibition functioning," Henrique von Gersdorff, PhD, from the Vollum Institute at Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, and a coauthor of the study, explained in an interview with Medscape Medical News.

Dr. von Gersdorff
"Because the retina is part of the central nervous system...this suggests there is likely an important role for vitamin C throughout our brains, to a degree we had not realized before," he added in a prepared statement.

"We found that if you don't have vitamin C inside or outside the cells in the retina, the cells and the receptors start to break down and don't function very well. But as soon as you add vitamin C, function is preserved perfectly well," Dr. von Gersdorff said.

"This was unexpected," he added, "because nobody had reported that ascorbic acid would be particularly important to keep the function of this particular type of GABA receptor in the brain."

Overall, the results suggest that ascorbic acid can be a "powerful endogenous modulator of GABAergic neurotransmission," the scientists write.

It is interesting to note, they say, that when the human body is deprived of ascorbic acid, vitamin C stores in the brain are the last to be depleted. "Perhaps the brain is the last place you want to lose vitamin C," Dr. von Gersdorff said.

"Maybe a vitamin C–rich diet could be neuroprotective for the retina," he added, especially for people who are prone to glaucoma or to epilepsy or other conditions involving overexcitation of the brain.

"This is speculative," he emphasized, "and there is much to learn. But this research provides some important insights and will lead to the generation of new hypotheses and potential treatment strategies."
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