A new study on worms by Alabama University researchers has shed light on cellular mechanisms that could be exploited to treat epilepsy.
The researchers said that the transparent roundworm, C. elegans, helped them identify key 'molecular switches' that control the transport of a molecule (gamma-aminobutyric acid or 'GABA') that if manipulated within our cells, might prevent the onset of seizures.
"It is our hope that this work serves to accelerate the path toward the identification of genetic factors that cause a susceptibility to epilepsy," said study co-author Guy A. Caldwell, from The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
"Simultaneously, this work has the potential to uncover new avenues toward therapeutic development to control or prevent seizures in the future," Caldwell added.
The researchers conducted experiments involving drugs known to affect neuronal activity in combination with DNA mutations in genetic factors shared between C. elegans and humans.
Changes in the worm's neuronal activity led to repetitive convulsions believed to be similar to those experienced in epilepsy.
These convulsions were observed under a microscope, and videos of those events were used to evaluate the severity of the neuronal changes.
At the same time, the researchers used a green fluorescent protein to "tag" or "label" the cellular locale and delivery of GABA in neurons.
This tagging allowed the researchers to see the specific genetic factors that led to abnormal movement of GABA in neurons as they coincided with worm seizures and to make appropriate comparisons with worms from the control group.
The study has been published in the journal Genetics.