Changing neuron behaviour to combat seizures

Dravet syndrome is a severe form of epilepsy which can cause children as young as three months to have seizures in which their limbs will jerk repeatedly. Further on in life – when the children are toddlers – these can develop into non-convulsive seizures which can go unnoticed completely by parents or even physicians but can interfere with the child’s consciousness up to 50 times a day.

A recent study of Dravet syndrome – which was carried out on mice – by Gladstone Institutes has found a way to identify when these “silent” seizures are happening and find the areas in the brain that could potentially be treated in an attempt to prevent them.

Senior Author of the study, Jeanne Paz, PhD, stated: “We were able to pinpoint the exact spot in the brain that causes the seizures.

“This discovery allowed us to develop two new strategies to prevent these non-convulsive seizures in mice simulating Dravet syndrome.”

The first strategy Paz referred to was optogenetics – the science of controlling neuron activity with laser light – which was used to both identify when a seizure was happening, and then to change the activity of neurons in the thalamus to stop the seizure.

Unfortunately, optogenetics is not yet approved to be used on humans, which caused Paz to search for a pharmaceutical approach.

This is when the second strategy was discovered. Paz and her team found that the drug EBIO1 had a similar effect of changing neuron behaviour in the thalamus. When the drug was administered to the mice in the test it was found that their seizures were reduced, and even stopped in some cases.

Paz was enthused by the discovery, saying: “It is very exciting that an FDA-approved drug already exists that targets the very brain activity we found to cause non-convulsive seizures.

“To our knowledge, it has never been used in epilepsy, but no side effects were reported when it was used in clinical trials for movement disorders.”