Ambroxol

August 01, 2016
My journey has taken me from cough medicine to nerve repair.
What molecule am I?

Ambroxol is a secretolytic agent (expectorant) that was developed by Boehringer-Ingelheim in the late 1960s and 1970s and commercialized in 1978. It is used to treat bronchopulmonary diseases by clearing mucus from the lungs. It is marketed under several trade names, often as the active ingredient in cough syrups.

Earlier this year, Daniel H. Geschwind and colleagues at UCLA discovered an exciting potential new use for ambroxol. They were searching for a way to allow the body to regenerate nerve cells in the central nervous system similarly to the way it spontaneously regrows cells in the peripheral nervous system (PNS).

By using bioinformatics techniques, the researchers identified a gene network used by the PNS to initiate self-repair. They then matched the expression patterns of genes in the network to a database of bioactive molecules that trigger the same patterns.

Out popped ambroxol! When the drug was fed to mice with optic nerve lesions, some neuron growth ensued. The authors believe that this finding “provides a functional genomics foundation for understanding neural repair and proof of the power of such approaches in tackling complex problems in nervous system biology”.

Ambroxol "Look-Alikes"

Ambroxol should not to be confused with

  • ambrox, a synonym for ambergris (the amberlike substance produced by sperm whales);
  • ambroxide, a major odor constituent of ambergris; or
  • Ambroxan, the brand name under which ambroxide is sold.
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