A study showing how brain cells communicate with each other when minds are most active could aid research into epilepsy seizures, according to scientists at the University of Edinburgh.
Researchers identified a key molecule, called VAMP4, required for neurons to send messages to each other during bursts of brain activity.
The team plans to investigate whether altering VAMP4 levels can help to switch off excess brain activity, calming the symptoms of epileptic seizures.
More than 600,000 people in the UK, including approximately 54,000 people in Scotland, have the serious neurological condition causing seizures.
Seizures are caused by abnormal electrical signalling in the brain prompted by an excess of communication between neurons. The team said the findings could eventually lead to new medicines helping patients with epilepsy who do not respond to existing treatments.
Scientists focused on a specific process called activity-dependent bulk endocytosis (ABDE), which enables neurons to continue communicating during bursts of brain activity.
They found VAMP4 is essential for ADBE but not required for other processes that are routinely involved in communication between neurons.
This means that medicines designed to target VAMP4 could have fewer side effects for normal day-to-day brain function than existing epilepsy treatments.
Because ABDE is also involved in other brain functions -–such as creating new memories – further research is needed to understand the effects of manipulating VAMP4.
Professor Mike Cousin, of the university’s Muir Maxwell epilepsy centre, said: “This research is still in very early stages but it gives us a new avenue to explore for new epilepsy treatments, which are urgently needed.
“Around one-third of children with epilepsy cannot control their seizures with treatments that are currently available.”
Lesslie Young, chief executive of Epilepsy Scotland, said: “Over 16,000 people in Scotland have epilepsy that is not well controlled so we welcome this pioneering work by the University of Edinburgh team.
“The results in seizure management this research may bring to all those dealing with daily seizures will be welcome. This study has the potential to transform the design of future anti-epilepsy drugs that will specifically interact with this key molecule.”
The study, funded by the Medical Research Council, is published in the journal Neuron.