At present, around 37,000 people in Ireland are affected by epilepsy, now neuroscientists have identified a new gene involved in the disorder. The teams finding may help in the development of a new treatment option for the condition.

The study, conducted by researchers at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSO), is published in Nature Medicine.

The team focused on a new class of gene called a microRNA. This class of gene controls protein production inside cells. The researchers found that patients with epilepsy have significantly higher levels of microRNA-134 in their brain. In addition, they found that they could prevent epileptic seizures from occurring by using a newly found drug called antagomir, which locks onto the microRNA-134 and removes it from the brain cell.

Professor David Henshall, Department of Physiology & Medical Physics, RCSI and senior author of the paper explained:

“We have been looking to find what goes wrong inside brain cells to trigger epilepsy. Our research has discovered a completely new gene linked to epilepsy and it shows how we can target these gene using drug-like molecules to reduce the brain’s susceptibility to seizures and the frequency in which they occur.”

Dr Eva Jimenez-Mateos, Department of Physiology & Medical Physics, RCSI said: “Our research found that the antagomir drug protects the brain cells from toxic effects of prolonged seizures and the effects of the treatment can last up to one month.”

Approximately 37,000 people in Ireland live with epilepsy. For two-thirds of all patients, seizures can be controlled by medication. Unfortunately, the other third continue having seizures, regardless of what medicines they take.

The authors say that their findings could potentially lead to new treatment methods that could help a greater proportion of patients control their seizures.

This study could potentially offer new treatment methods for patients.

Approximately 3% of all people in the USA will at some time in their lives be diagnosed with epilepsy. Among younger patients, the cause is more likely to be due to a congenital or developmental condition. Tumors are the more likely causes among patients diagnosed after the age of 40. Epilepsy can also be caused by central nervous system infections or head trauma.

At any one time, between 5 and 10 in every 1,000 people have epilepsy. Lifetime prevalence is high because many patients have seizures, which stop, and never come back, while others (much rarer) die from it.

Over the last ten years, epilepsy rates in industrial countries have dropped among children, but have risen in seniors.

Written by Grace Rattue