Scientists use brain cells to ‘cure’ epilepsy in mice

Posted May 7 2013 in Brain science; genetics / Other treatments

Transplanting cells into the brains of people with epilepsy could help to treat or even cure the condition, preclinical research suggests.

Scientists at the University of California, San Francisco have carried out tests involving transplants of medial ganglionic eminence (MGE) cells in mice with epilepsy resembling mesial temporal lobe epilepsy in humans.

This particular type of cell blocks signalling in overactive nerve circuits and could therefore help to dampen the abnormal firing of excitatory nerve cells that occurs in the brain during an epileptic seizure, scientists believe.

In their latest study, researchers gave mice a one-time transplant of MGE cells into their hippocampus – part of the brain associated with learning, memory and seizures.

They found that half of the treated mice experienced complete freedom from seizures, with the others benefiting from a significant reduction in such episodes.

Treated mice also exhibited less agitation and hyperactivity and performed better on tests designed to assess their learning and memory.

The findings are exciting as, while previous studies have transplanted different cell types in a bid to stop seizures, this is the first to achieve success.

Lead researcher Dr Scott Baraban, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco, said: “Our results are an encouraging step toward using inhibitory neurons for cell transplantation in adults with severe forms of epilepsy.

“This procedure offers the possibility of controlling seizures and rescuing cognitive deficits in these patients.”

The findings are published in the journal Nature Neuroscience and suggest a possible avenue of treatment for patients who are unable to control their seizures with existing medications.

In a separate study, published in the journal Cell Stem Cell, scientists at the same university have found a way to generate human MGE-like cells in the laboratory.

When they transplanted these cells into healthy laboratory mice, they found that they spun off functional inhibitory nerve cells as predicted.

This suggests that if future studies confirm the ability of transplanted MGE cells to prevent seizures in humans, it may be possible to generate the necessary cells in the laboratory.

Posted by Steve Long

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