Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC scientists identify an elusive link between seizures, cell signaling protein
For the brain to learn, retain memories, process sensory information, and coordinate body movements, its groups of nerve cells must generate coordinated electrical signals. Disorder in synchronous firing can impair these processes and, in extreme cases, lead to seizures and epilepsy.
Synchrony between neighboring neurons depends on the protein connexin 36, an essential element of certain types of synaptic connections that, unlike classical chemical synapses, pass signals between neurons through direct electrical connections. For more than 15 years, scientists have debated the tie between connexin 36 and epilepsy.
Now, a team of Virginia Tech scientists led by Yuchin Albert Pan, an associate professor at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC, have identified a new link between seizures and connexin 36 deficiency. The discovery, published Monday, Jan. 11 in Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience, found that this interaction may make the brain more prone to having seizures.
Alyssa Brunal, a recent graduate of Virginia Tech’s translational biology, medicine, and health doctoral program, working with her mentor Pan, developed new models for studying the relationship between connexin 36 and seizures and confirmed the relationship.
Zebrafish serve as a powerful animal model, allowing researchers to evaluate the effects of connexin 36 on the whole brain in an intact living system during neural hyperactivity.
As an essential component of electrically coupled synapses between neurons, connexin 36 plays an important role in rapid and synchronous activation of interconnected neworks of neurons within the brain, which is necessary for normal brain processes.
“In previous studies, people weren’t using the same model organisms. They weren’t looking at the same brain regions. They weren’t using the same methods for inducing seizures,” Brunal said. “I thought, because the zebrafish is such a versatile model organism, we could use it to try to discern what actually is going on.”
To learn more, check out the whole article below.