Researchers have pinpointed the role of a key enzyme – GSK3 – and say the discovery could lead to new drugs that would help to slow memory loss and calm the symptoms of epileptic seizures.
The landmark study was led by the University of Edinburgh and conducted in partnership with the University of Dundee and with Australian researchers from the Children’s Medical Research Institute and the Garvan Institute for Medical Research in Sydney.
The results of the research are published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.
Scientists analysed the way brain cells communicate at times of peak activity – such as the creation of new memories or in epileptic seizures – when electrical signalling by the brain’s neurons is increased.
They found that the GSK3 enzyme helps to suppress brain activity by reducing the flow of chemical messengers between brain cells.
This raises the possibility that drugs could be developed to block the effect of this enzyme, increasing chemical messaging between brain cells, researchers say. This could help to protect memory in people with Alzheimer’s disease and slow the progression of their illness.
Conversely, researchers also say that drugs could also be developed to boost the effect of the enzyme, slowing brain activity in epilepsy patients and reducing the effects of their seizures.
The team warns, however, that because GSK3 is associated with a range of body and brain functions, more research is needed to establish what the effects of manipulating this enzyme might be.
Dr Mike Cousin, of the University of Edinburgh, who led the research said: ‘Until now, we understood that this enzyme was important brain cell function, but we did not fully appreciate why. This study shows that GSK3 plays a crucial part in controlling brain function during peak activity. The development of drugs to act on the enzyme could make a real difference to the lives of people with brain disorders.’
The research was funded by the Wellcome Trust, Epilepsy Research UK and the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council.
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