New York, June 15 :
In what could help prevent epilepsy and improve treatment for schizophrenia and other neurological disorders, researchers have now identified a complex network of proteins that contribute to these afflictions.
“Our study pertains to the discovery of the ying-yang for neuronal cross-talk that is essential for normal healthy brain function,” Chennai born Vivek Mahadevan, a Ph.D student at the University of Toronto in Canada, told IANS.
“The reason that this is important is because for long, researchers thought they exist and function separately to maintain the opposing forms of brain communication called excitation and inhibition,” Mahadevan added.
“Our discovery of the coexistence of these opposing forces is a significant scientific advancement towards the understanding of normal brain function and towards curing of diseases such as epilepsy, pain and autism,” he noted.
Neurons in the brain communicate with other neurons through synapses, communication that can either excite or inhibit other neurons.
“An imbalance among the levels of excitation and inhibition – a tip towards excitation, for example, causes improper brain function and can produce seizures,” professor Melanie Woodin, who led the investigation, explained.
“We identified a key complex of proteins that can regulate excitation-inhibition balance at the cellular level,” Woodin added.
This complex brings together three key proteins – KCC2, Neto2 and GluK2 – required for inhibitory and excitatory synaptic communication.
KCC2 is required for inhibitory impulses, GluK2 is a receptor for the main excitatory transmitter glutamate, and Neto2 is an auxiliary protein that interacts with both KCC2 and GluK2.
The discovery of the complex of three proteins is path breaking as it was previously believed that KCC2 and GluK2 were in separate compartments of the cell and acted independently of each other.
“Finding that they are all directly interacting and can co-regulate each other’s function reveals for the first time a system that can mediate excitation-inhibition balance among neurons themselves,” Mahadevan added.
There is no cure for epilepsy, the best available treatments only control its effects such as convulsions and seizures.
“We can now imagine preventing them from occurring in the first place,” Woodin noted.
The study appeared in the journal Cell Reports.