Neuroscientists may have found new gene that causes epilepsy seizures

23 Jul 2012

Neuroscientists from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) say they have found a new gene linked to epilepsy and they believe they could potentially provide a new treatment to prevent epileptic seizures.

Nature Medicine has just published their paper. The scientists involved in the study included researchers from the department of physiology and medical physics and molecular and cellular therapeutics at the RCSI, along with clinicians at Beaumont Hospital and experts in brain structure from the Cajal Institute in Madrid.

A grant from Science Foundation Ireland supported the research.

The researchers honed in on what they termed a new class of gene called a microRNA. Apparently, this particular gene controls protein production inside cells.

According to the scientists, they research looked in detail at one particular microRNA called microRNA-134. They said they found that levels of microRNA-134 are much higher in the part of the brain that causes seizures in patients with epilepsy.   

As a result, the scientists used a new type of drug-like molecule called an antagomir. This molecule works, it seems, by locking onto the microRNA-134 gene and removing it from the brain cell. Using this molecule, the researchers said they found they could prevent epileptic seizures from happening.

“We have been looking to find what goes wrong inside brain cells to trigger epilepsy. Our research has discovered a completely new gene linked to epilepsy and it shows how we can target this gene using drug-like molecules to reduce the brain’s susceptibility to seizures and the frequency in which they occur,” confirmed the senior author of the paper Prof David Henshall, who works in the department of physiology and medical physics at the RCSI.
His colleague Dr Eva Jimenez-Mateos, the lead author of the paper, said the research found that the antagomir drug protects the brain cells from the effects of prolonged seizures. She claimed the effects of the treatment could last up to one month.

In Ireland, epilepsy affects 37,000 people. The RCSI said today that for every two out of three people with epilepsy, their seizures are controlled by medication, but one in three patients continues to have seizures despite being prescribed medication.

The scientists said their study could potentially offer new treatment methods for patients.

DNA image via Shutterstock

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic