What Is Semax?

Semax, which was developed in Russia, has been found to have benefit in the settings of stroke, cognitive impairment, dementia, and inflammation of the optic nerve. It has also been tested as a potential immune system booster and has been found to have antidepressant and anxiolytic properties as well. Research shows that Semax increases levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in the central nervous system as well as levels of serotonin and dopamine.

Semax in the Setting of Stroke

Semax is used in Russia for the treatment of acute cerebral hypoxia, such as would be the case with stroke or traumatic brain injury. Research in rats has found Semax stimulates a number of molecular mechanisms involved in gene transcription in the central nervous system (CNS). In concrete terms, Semax stimulates changes in the expression of 24 different genes related to blood vessels function in the brain and spinal cord. These genes regulate everything from smooth muscle cell migration to red blood cell formation and the generation of new blood vessels. This correlation may explain why Semax has shown neuroprotective properties in the setting of stroke. It appears that the peptide promotes the survival of neurons, stabilizes mitochondria and thus energy production, and improves the supply of nutrition to the brain.

Semax and Gene Expression in the Brain

The changes to gene expression in the brain secondary to Semax are not only seen in the setting of stroke. Research in healthy rats has indicated that a single intranasal administration of Semax can have an effect on a number of different genes in both the hippocampus and frontal cortex. This is significant because the hippocampus plays critical roles in memory and learning while the frontal cortex is important in concentration, planning, and organizing information. In both tissues, gene expression is seen within 20 minutes of Semax administration and has particularly potent effects on nerve growth factor (NGF) and BDNF. As is explained in the following section, the impact of Semax on genes in regions of the brain dedicated to concentration, learning, and executive function is one reason that researchers speculate that the peptide could open up channels for exploring how we learn and process information. There is even hope that Semax can help us understand how to improve cognition and make learning easier and more permanent for everyone.

Semax and Cognitive Performance

There is reason to believe that Semax is an effective means of boosting learning and memory, particularly in individuals suffering from neurological impairment of these functions. According to research out of Canada, the United States, and China, ACTH, the natural protein on which Semax is based, protects learning and memory function in mouse models of epilepsy. The protein has long been used in the treatment of epileptic disorders as a first-line defense against development arrest or regression.

Semax and Depression

Research in mice has shown that increasing levels of BDNF can help to regulate the function of the brain in the setting of depression. Current antidepressants, like SSRIs, tend to indirectly affect serotonin signaling in the brain to achieve an effect, but several weeks of treatment are often required before any effect is seen. For years, this has presented a paradox to scientists who study brain chemistry because the effects should be much more immediate. Now, it appears, thanks to insight gained from Semax and other BDNF stimulating proteins, that SSRIs may take a long time to work because their actual therapeutic effect is related to their ability to increase BDNF levels and thus stimulate neurogenesis in the depressed brain. If this is true, it opens up an entirely new way of understanding depression and its treatment. According to Deltheil et. al., there is good reason to thank that combining BDNF stimulators, like Semax, with SSRI treatment could vastly improve efficacy and make it easier to treat depression. Of course, a great deal of research needs to be done to determine if these results can be replicated and extended.