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Brain wave study provides clues for epileptic treatment

 What do a glutamate receptor, brain wave frequencies and epilepsy have to do with one another? Understanding these neural inner-workings gives scientists more information to develop treatments for brain-related pathologies.

In his most recent study published in Neuroscience, Sanjay Kumar, Ph.D., wanted to know how varying stimulation patterned after brain wave frequencies affect a particular receptor he discovered and named. The FSU Receptor is a type of NMDA receptor involved in learning and memory– “synaptic plasticity.” It is distinguished from other NMDA receptors by its unique “subunit composition.”

“The FSU Receptor is roughly five times more permeable to calcium, which is a messenger responsible for activating many intracellular signal transduction pathways,” said Kumar, assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences. “It activates in a way never seen with conventional NMDA receptors.”

During this study, Kumar and co-author Jyotsna Pilli, Ph.D., learned that subunit composition of the NMDA receptor enables it to respond differently to a certain kind of stimulation.

“To the best of our knowledge, this is a first demonstration that NMDA receptors are exquisitely tuned to different brain wave frequencies,” Kumar said. “Different inputs onto neurons create different firing patterns which activate specific NMDA receptors and strengthen those and only those pathways.”

The FSU Receptor is also hypothesized to be part of the problem in temporal lobe epilepsy due to the fact that it is expressed in the temporal lobe and is super calcium-permeable. Temporal lobe epilepsy is the most common type of epilepsy in adults and is often refractory to anti-epileptic drugs. Kumar and his team plan to investigate the role of the FSU receptor in temporal lobe epilepsy and use it as a target for treatment possibilities.

“An unexplained hallmark of pathology noted in patients with temporal lobe epilepsy is the loss of a vulnerable population of excitatory neurons,” explained Kumar. “Our hypothesis is that under hyper-excitable conditions, these FSU Receptors open, and let huge amounts of calcium come in. Then they become vulnerable to excitotoxicity and eventually cell death.”

Armed with a new understanding of the role of various subunits that operate the FSU Receptor, Kumar and his team are looking for answers to this puzzle.

“We want to understand what the basis for temporal lobe epilepsy is. How does temporal lobe epilepsy come about? To understand it and find a cure for it, we have to get to the nuts-and-bolts level.”

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