Scientists in the United States have first deciphered the function of brain structures around neurons and believe they have discovered a potential treatment for some types of epilepsy.
According to a study released today, so-called perineuronal networks were first discovered in 1893 by Italian neurobiologist Camillo Golgi, but their role was not well known until the team at the Carilion Institute of Virginia State University has now concluded that they regulate electrical impulses in the brain.
When these nets are destroyed, epileptic seizures can occur, as they discovered when they investigated brains of rats with very aggressive brain tumours called glioblastomas.
It is only cancer that cannot spread because it is limited by the skull. Therefore, it secretes in large quantities a neurotransmitter called glutamate that kills the surrounding cells to allow a tumour to grow.
Scientists at Virginia Tech have also found that a tumour attacks the nets by dissolving them, making it difficult to regulate the electrical impulses in the brain, which can then undergo epileptic seizures.
The epilepsy researcher H. Steven White stated that the team study findings led by biologist Harald Sontheimer may apply to other forms of acquired epilepsy.
“This study suggests a possible way to modify the development and progression of epilepsy, which would reduce the disorder for patients,” he said.
More than 50 million people worldwide suffer from epilepsy, according to the World Health Organization. About one-third of patients do not respond to existing treatments.