New University of Virginia School of Medicine insights into how the brain responds to seizures could help with development of much-needed treatments for patients who don’t respond to existing options.
Research by UVA’s Ukpong B. Eyo and Edward Perez-Reyes suggests immune cells called microglia play important, beneficial roles in controlling various types of seizures.
“Over the years, there has been debate as to the precise roles of microglia in seizure disorders, and the availability of precise tools to specifically target microglia without affecting other aspects of the brain has been lacking – until the approach we have employed in this study,” said Eyo, of UVA’s Department of Neuroscience and Center for Brain Immunology and Glia (the BIG Center), as well as the UVA Brain Institute.
Eyo said the study suggests enhancing the cells’ activities could offer a promising approach to treating seizures from a variety of causes.
Seizure disorders affect more than 65 million people around the world. In addition to immediate dangers caused by seizures, prolonged seizures called “status epilepticus” can cause permanent brain damage.
Seizures are commonly associated with epilepsy, but causes can vary, including infections, trauma and even low blood sugar.
Most existing seizure treatments target nerve cells called neurons. Better understanding the role of microglia could open the door to innovative approaches to preventing and managing seizures.
“This study is a great example of UVA’s collaborative culture and the importance of seed funding by the UVA Brain Institute that got the ball rolling,” said Perez-Reyes, of UVA’s Department of Pharmacology and the UVA Brain Institute. “We hope to apply this knowledge to develop novel gene therapies for epilepsy and quiet the brain storms that are seizures.”
UVA’s new research has produced several promising leads for scientists to pursue.
“Given our comprehensive research program. encompassing both basic science research and clinical research on seizure disorders. as well as our strong network of research collaborations, the University of Virginia is a great place to continue to make such advances,” Eyo said.
The researchers published their findings in the scientific journal Glia. The team consisted of Synphane Gibbs-Shelton, Jordan Benderoth, Ronald P. Gaykema, Justyna Straub, Kenneth A. Okojie, Joseph O. Uweru, Dennis H. Lentferink, Binita Rajbanshi, Maureen N. Cowan, Brij Patel, Anthony Brayan Campos-Salazar, Perez-Reyes and Eyo.
The work was made possible by critical seed funding from the UVA Brain Institute, which builds and supports interdisciplinary neuroscience research teams across UVA to address major societal challenges related to the brain. That allowed researchers to obtain funding from the National Institutes of Health (grant R01NS122782). Additional support came from The Owens Family Foundation.
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