Protein role in epilepsy examined
Tuesday 3rd September 2013, 4:20PM BST.
People with epilepsy could be helped by new research into the way a key molecule controls brain activity during a seizure.
Scientists have identified the role played by a protein – called BDNF – and say the discovery could lead to the development of new drugs.
They analysed the way cells communicate when the brain is most active, such as in the seizures, when electrical signalling by the brain’s neurons is increased.
They found that the BDNF molecule – which is known to be released in the brain during seizures – has the harmful effect of blocking a process known as activity-dependent bulk endocytosis (ABDE).
By doing this during a seizure, BDNF increases the release of neurotransmitters and causes heightened electrical activity in the brain.
Experts now aim to target BDNF to stop this taking place.
They say that not all epilepsy patients respond to current drug treatments and the finding could lead to the development of new medicines.
Since ADBE is only triggered during high brain activity, drugs designed to target this process could have fewer side effects for normal day-to-day brain function.
The researchers, however, offered a word of caution. Since ABDE is also implicated in a range of brain functions, such as creating new memories, more research is needed to establish what the effects of manipulating this molecule might be on these important processes.
The study, led by the University of Edinburgh, is published in the journal Nature Communications. The research was funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council.
Dr Mike Cousin, of the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Integrative Physiology, who led the research, said: “Around one third of people with epilepsy do not respond to the treatments we currently have available.
“By studying the way brain cells behave during seizures, we have been able to uncover an exciting new research avenue for research into anti-epileptic therapies.”
Researchers will now focus on identifying specific genes that control this brain process to determine whether they hold the key to new drug treatments.