Reducing Calorie Intake May Reduce Epileptic Seizures

Posted Dec 5 2016 in Brain science; genetics

Reducing calorie intake could reduce seizures and be beneficial for people with epilepsy, according to a study published in the leading scientific journal, Neuron.

It has been known for several years that fasting can offer health benefits and expand life span, but scientists at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, in the US, together with colleagues from Canada, offer for the first time an explanation as to how reducing calorie intake may be beneficial for the nervous system.

Professor Pejmun Haghighi, the senior author of the study, said in a press release: “Our findings suggest that one of the reasons that fasting is beneficial is that it gives the nervous system a break.”

Using fruit fly larvae as a model, the team showed that acute fasting, or transient removal of food lowers synaptic activity at the neuromuscular junction, which is where the neurons come into contact with muscle cells to control their contraction. According to the authors, the neuromuscular junction is representative of the rest of the nervous system with (respect to synaptic activity).

Until this study, nobody had examined how fasting affects synaptic activity (the release of signalling molecules called neurotransmitters between neurons or between neurons and muscle cells). What was known, however, was that a protein called TOR is able to increase synaptic activity. TOR is better known for increasing cell metabolism by blocking the action of another protein called 4E-BP (a metabolic inhibitor).

In the present study, using genetic, electrophysiological and imaging techniques, the researchers showed that the same interaction between TOR and 4E-BP also happens at the synapse when food is plenty. However, when food is unavailable, another protein called FOXO is activated. FOXO activates the expression of 4E-BP, which means that there is not enough TOR to silence 4E-BP and the balance is tilted in favour of reduced synaptic activity.

“We might have some real insight into the advantages of dampening of synaptic activity that is caused by fasting,” said Prof.Haghighi, “for example, how fasting can be beneficial for epileptic patients, who can experience reduced seizures when restricting calories”.

Author: Dr Özge Özkaya

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