New mouse research model offers fresh epilepsy insights

Posted Aug 26 2014 in Brain science; genetics

A new genetically engineered line of mice could be used to accelerate research into epilepsy and other neurological conditions.

Conducted by the University of Utah and published in the medical journal Neuron, the study involved three years of collaborative work with multiple labs connected with the university’s Brain Institute.

The mice carry a protein marker, which changes in degree of fluorescence in response to different calcium levels. Calcium is recognised as an important signaling molecule in the body and it can be used to reveal how well the brain is functioning.

With this new model, scientists can use a laser-based fluorescence microscope to study the calcium indicator in the glial cells of the living animal, either when the mouse is anaesthetised or awake.

This technique offers a wide variety of potential applications, as it essentially acts as a window into the working brain, allowing researchers to observe and study the interactions between neurons, astrocytes and microglia as they occur.

For example, it is currently known that glial cell malfunctions are involved in the development of epilepsy, but this new research model will also make it possible to chart the ways in which astrocytes participate in the spread of the condition.

Moreover, the ability to track calcium changes in microglial cells facilitates the study of inflammatory diseases of the brain, including multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s.

This will be a marked step up from current methods, which revolve around post-mortem tissue studies or invasive approaches using synthetic dyes.

Dr John White, professor of bioengineering, executive director of the Brain Institute and the study’s corresponding author, said: “We believe this will give us new insights for treatments of epilepsy and for new views of how the immune system of the brain works.”

Approximately 600,000 people in the UK have a diagnosis of epilepsy, which means the condition affects almost one in 100 people across the nation.

Posted by Steve Long

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