Convulsions in worms mimic epileptic seizures

, GABA neurons might release less neurotransmitter and therefore not fire properly. That, in turn, could lower the worms' convulsion threshold.

"Neurons are still just cells," said Caldwell. "Trafficking defects may manifest themselves in different ways in different cell types, and seizures may be one result in neurons."

Caldwell hopes that the C. elegans convulsion model may help decode the mysteries of epilepsy and perhaps lead to better treatments for seizures. Researchers can knock out genes rapidly in worms, treat them with a variety of chemicals, and use other genetic techniques that are not possible with human patients.

"Epilepsy--one of the worst parts of lissencephaly--is still a black box on a genetic level," Caldwell added. "This work shows that we can dissect out that part of the disease. It is one of those classic situations where a rare disorder is going to provide insights into a more common one, epilepsy."

"It's quite possible that other gene mutations might show susceptibility to convulsions in worms," said Caldwell's undergraduate co-author Locke, who, with support from HHMI and a National Science Foundation Career award, has developed a computer database of candidate epilepsy genes to test in the worm model. Named to USA Today's All-American Academic Team this year, Locke credits Caldwell's enthusiasm for motivating him to pursue research as an undergraduate.


Contact: Jennifer Donovan
Howard Hughes Medical Institute

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