Background: Spinal-cord injury is devastating; until recently, there was no medical treatment to improve recovery of the initial neurologic deficit. Studies in animals have shown that monosialotetrahexosylganglioside (GM-1) ganglioside enhances the functional recovery of damaged neurons.
Methods: A prospective, randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial of GM-1 ganglioside was conducted in patients with spinal-cord injuries. Of 37 patients entered into the study, 34 (23 with cervical injuries and 11 with thoracic injuries) completed the test-drug protocol (100 mg of GM-1 sodium salt or placebo intravenously per day for 18 to 32 doses, with the first dose taken within 72 hours of the injury) and a one-year follow-up period. Neurologic recovery was assessed with the Frankel scale (comprising five categories) and the American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA) motor score (a scale of scores from 0 to 100, derived from strength tests of 20 specific muscles, each scored from 0 to 5).
Results: There was a significant difference between groups in the distribution of improvement of Frankel grades from base line to the one-year follow-up (improvement of 0, 1, 2, and 3 grades in 13, 4, 1, and 0 patients, respectively, in the placebo group and 8, 1, 6, and 1 patients, respectively, in the GM-1 group; P = 0.034 by the Cochran-Mantel-Haenszel chi-square test). The GM-1-treated patients also had a significantly greater mean improvement in ASIA motor score from base line to the one-year follow-up than the placebo-treated patients (36.9 vs. 21.6 points; P = 0.047 by analysis of covariance with the base-line ASIA motor score as the covariate). An analysis of individual muscle recoveries revealed that the increased recovery in the GM-1 group was attributable to initially paralyzed muscles that regained useful motor strength rather than to strengthening of paretic muscles.
Conclusions: This small study provides evidence that GM-1 enhances the recovery of neurologic function after one year. A larger study must be conducted, however, before GM-1 is considered efficacious and safe in treating spinal-cord injury.