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Sick Kids scientists identify gene for most severe form of adolescent epilepsy

An international research team led by Drs. Berge Minassian and Stephen Scherer of The Hospital for Sick Children (HSC) and the University of Toronto (U of T) has identified a gene responsible for the most severe form of teenage-onset epilepsy, known as Lafora disease (LD). The discovery is reported in the September issue of the scientific journal Nature Genetics.

"Epilepsy is one of the most common neurological disorders affecting over 40 million people worldwide," said Dr. Berge Minassian, one of the study's senior authors, an HSC neurologist and scientist, and an assistant professor in the Department of Paediatrics at U of T. "Lafora disease is one form of epilepsy that occurs during early adolescence and is characterized by seizures and progressive neurological degeneration. Death usually occurs within a decade of the first symptoms."

Fifty years of investigation led doctors to suspect that Lafora disease was caused by problems with carbohydrate metabolism in the brain. Beyond this, however, the fundamental defect triggering the malfunction was unknown. In 1998, the HSC team identified the first gene implicated in Lafora disease, called EPM2A.

"While the discovery of the EPM2A gene has led to the development of diagnostics and a better understanding of the fundamental defect causing seizures, it explained the underlying problem for only 50 per cent of LD families," said Dr. Stephen Scherer, the other senior author of the study, an HSC senior scientist, and an associate professor in the Department of Molecular and Medical Genetics at U of T.

"The newly discovered LD gene, named NHLRC1, produces a protein thought to be involved in marking other proteins for destruction in the cell. Our early data suggests that the EPM2A and NHLRC1 genes work together to safeguard neurons against accumulating too many carbohydrates. If either of the genes is missing, the result is epilepsy," added Dr. Scherer. "Importantly, we can now explain Lafora
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Contact: Laura Greer
laura.greer@sickkids.ca
416-813-5046
University of Toronto
7-Sep-2003


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