Researchers from UC San Francisco have discovered a way to reverse severe forms of epilepsy in mice with stem cells, providing a new sense of hope for patients who suffer from the seizure-inducing disorder.
Published earlier this month in Nature Neuroscience, the UCSF study demonstrated that transplantation of medial ganglionic eminence (MGE) cells, embryonic neurons that can inhibit overactive brain signaling, was able to stop seizures in half of the epileptic mice that were treated.
The mice also appeared less agitated and hyperactive and seemed to perform better on learning and memory tests.
MGE cells were transplanted into a specific region of the brain known as the hippocampus, which is believed to play a part in seizures as well as learning and memory.
Previous studies show that transplanted MGE cells are capable of differentiating into a variety of mature neurons, including inhibitory GABA-ergic neurons. GABA-ergic neurons are known to suppress seizures when activated and abnormal GABA-ergic activity has been linked to animal models of epilepsy.
Cell transplants have become a recent focus in epilepsy research due to a lack of effective treatments, according to Scott C. Baraban, PhD, who led the UCSF study.
Baraban says that current drugs are focused on treating symptoms as opposed to the cause and fail to provide therapeutic benefit in many forms of epilepsy.
"Our results are an encouraging step toward using inhibitory neurons for cell transplantation in adults with severe forms of epilepsy," states Baraban. "This procedure offers the possibility of controlling seizures and rescuing cognitive deficits in these patients."
Still, the use of embryonic stem cells remains controversial and is significantly more invasive than conventional epilepsy treatments, which largely depend on the use of anticonvulsant medications.
Further research is required to confirm the therapeutic value of stem cells in human epilepsy, but the UCSF team remain encouraged by their discovery.
“This is the first report in a mouse model of adult epilepsy in which mice that already were having seizures stopped having seizures after treatment,” says Baraban.