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Researchers Have Successfully Cured Epilepsy in Mice

Update Date: May 06, 2013 02:19 PM EDT

Epilepsy affects about 50 million people worldwide, yet there is no cure for the condition. While many sufferers of the condition receive solace in the form of medication that can reduce the number of seizures, about 30 to 40 percent of people receive no aid from such medication. In addition, such medications are only able to treat the symptoms instead of the underlying causes. A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco has resulted in the discovery that a one-time transplant may be able to cure epilepsy.

The researchers performed the experiment on mice, who had a mouse model of a particularly devastating form of epilepsy called mesial temporal lobe epilepsy. This form of epilepsy is particularly severe and is typically resistant to drugs. It is believed that the seizures in this form of epilepsy arise in the hippocampus.

People with epilepsy sometimes contend with nerve cells firing off at the same time. As a result of these over-excited nerve cells, people suffer from seizures that can cause muscle contractions and the loss of consciousness. These seizures can often lead to injuries.

In order to prevent nerves from becoming too excited and firing too often, the researchers performed a rather simple procedure. They transplanted medial ganglionic eminence (MGE) cells. Because researchers were studying a form of epilepsy in which seizures arose from the hippocampus, they dropped the brain cells into that region of the brain. In addition to being associated with seizures, the hippocampus is also linked with learning and memory.

The procedure was quite a success in the mice. Half of the mice no longer suffered from seizures at all. In the other half of the mice, they still suffered from seizures, but they had dramatically fewer spontaneous seizures than they had before. Apart from the reduction in seizures, mice's behavior changed. They were less abnormally agitated, less hyperactive and they were better able to perform in water-maze tests.

It is not clear why some mice saw their seizures completely disappear, while others did not have the same level of success. Regardless, the study is seen as a great success for the researchers.

"Our results are an encouraging step toward using inhibitory neurons for cell transplantation in adults with severe forms of epilepsy," lead author Dr. Scott Baraban said in a statement. "This procedure offers the possibility of controlling seizures and rescuing cognitive deficits in these patients."

The study was published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

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