Hyaluronic acid ‘plays previously unknown role in causing epilepsy’

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Researchers in the US have discovered a previously unknown cause of epilepsy, potentially paving the way for new treatment strategies for the condition.

A team from the SUNY Downstate Medical Center and Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute have discovered that deficiencies in hyaluronic acid (HA) – also known as hyaluronan – can cause spontaneous epileptic seizures.

This polysaccharide molecule is widely distributed throughout connective, epithelial and neural tissues, including the brain’s extracellular space (ECS). The new study is the first to show that HA plays a physiological role in the maintenance of brain ECS volume, underlining its importance in supporting normal brain function.

Research carried out using mice revealed that subjects lacking HA were susceptible to spontaneous epileptic seizures, suggesting the molecule is functionally involved in the regulation of neuronal excitability. Taking it away results in a reduction in the volume of the brain’s ECS, leading to spontaneous epileptiform activity that causes seizures.

This study sheds much-needed light on the actual function of HA in the brain, while also revealing a novel non-synaptic mechanism of epileptogenesis. As such, it could pave the way for the development of new antiepileptic therapies based on the preservation of HA.

Dr Yu Yamaguchi, professor in the human genetics programme at Sanford-Burnham, said: “This is the first study that demonstrates the important role of this unique molecule for normal functioning of the brain, and that its deficiency may be a cause of epileptic disorders. A better understanding of how hyaluronan regulates brain function could lead to new treatment approaches for epilepsy.”

Epilepsy affects around one percent of the world’s population worldwide, with more than 500,000 people in the UK diagnosed with the condition. However, despite its commonplace nature, the causes of epilepsy remain relatively poorly understood.

Although epilepsy treatments are effective in around 70 percent of cases, a substantial number of patients could benefit from new therapeutic approaches, making research of this nature important.

Posted by Steve Long