Scientists are developing a new way to treat stroke and degenerative brain diseases like Alzheimer's.
The team induced the release of anti-oxidants in the brain
The team successfully tested in mice drugs which trigger the brain's own defence to dangerous disease-causing particles known as free radicals.
The drugs induced mice to make their own anti-oxidants which repair damage to nerve cells caused by degenerative diseases, the US-Japanese team said.
Their study appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The research team from the Burnham Institute of Medical Research in La Jolla, California, and four Japanese universities, Iwate, Osaka City, Iwate Medical and Gifu Universities, looked closely at nerve cells in the brains of mice.
The team say the new drugs, based on a compound called prostaglandin found throughout the body, trigger the production of anti-oxidants which combat free radicals associated with disease and slow down the natural decaying process.
The researchers said an example of how this worked was when very high levels of a protein building block, glutamate, were present.
At normal levels glutamate enables effective communication between the nerves.
But when it reaches excessive levels, as it does in stroke victims and those suffering from Alzheimer's, it is toxic and over-stimulates the nerve cells, causing the release of free radicals.
Studies described by the team suggested that the new drugs prompted anti-oxidant creation - and thus prevented nerve damage.
Study author and director of the Centre for Neurosciences and Aging at the Burnham Institute Professor Stuart Lipton said as the study had only been done in mice, a break through was a long way off.
But he added: "Most drugs fail because of side-effects.
"However, the very exciting finding here is that nerve cells are specifically targeted by the new drugs, avoiding other cell types.
"Of even more importance, these drugs may be much less toxic than prior drugs in this class."
Fruit and veg
A spokeswoman for the Stroke Association said while the potential treatment had its attractions, there were was much more work to do before it "revolutionised" existing methods.
"In the treatment of stroke, time is of the essence and the speed with which the system could respond is critical.
"If the system takes hours to be respond, it's unlikely to have a useful impact," she added.
Belinda Linden, medical spokesperson for the British Heart Foundation (BHF), said the paper added useful information on ways to encourage the release of natural antioxidants to help prevent cell death
"Clinical evidence of the benefits of antioxidant protection is still scarce," she said.
"Until we understand more, the BHF recommends boosting the levels of antioxidants in your body by consuming at least five portions a day of fruit and vegetables to help keep your heart healthy."