Gender-based differences in the brain ‘could affect epilepsy’

Posted Aug 14 2015 in Brain science; genetics

Intrinsic differences between the brains of men and women could have an effect on experiences of epilepsy between the two genders, according to a new report.

The Northwestern University study has identified inherent biological differences between males and females in the molecular regulation of synapses in the hippocampus, potentially offering an explanation for why men’s and women’s brains respond differently to different drugs.

Published in the Journal of Neuroscience, the research specifically showed that a drug called URB-597 – which regulates a molecule important in neurotransmitter release – had an effect in females rats that was not replicated in males.

URB-597 is designed to increase the inhibitory effect of a key endocannabinoid in the brain, called anandamide, decreasing the release of neurotransmitters. Endocannabinoids are molecules that help regulate the amount of certain neurotransmitters released at synapses, and are known to play a key role in epilepsy.

Understanding what controls the synthesis, release and breakdown of endocannabinoids has broad implications both for normal and pathological brain function, according to the researchers.

Catherine Woolley, senior author of the study, said: “We don’t know whether this finding will translate to humans or not, but right now people who are investigating endocannabinoids in humans probably are not aware that manipulating these molecules could have different effects in males and females.”

This is the first study to detail where males and females differ in a key molecular pathway in the brain, and highlights the need for further research into the ways in which the brains of men and women differ.

Currently, about 85 percent of basic neuroscience studies are done in male animals, tissues or cells, suggesting that the insights provided by such research could be limited in usefulness by the fact they do not account for gender-based differences.

Posted by Steve Long

Scientific abstract: http://www.jneurosci.org/content/35/32/11252.abstract

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