Results from the US and China may help to explain why 50-60% of children with epilepsy outgrow their condition in adolescence.At the heart of these findings is ‘GABA’; a brain chemical that acts via structures called receptors to dampen down electrical activity in neurons (and prevent them from becoming over-excited). Recent evidence shows that there is a specific type of GABA receptor, called α4βδ, that is only made in the brain during puberty.In the current study, the team, led by Dr Sheryl Smith, at SUNY Downstate, New York, wanted to explore the role of α4βδ receptors in regulating seizure activity. To do this they used animal brain tissue, from before puberty and during puberty, and induced seizure-like activity in it using approved methods.The researchers found that when they tried to induce seizure-like activity in the pre-pubertal tissue, they were successful in 60% of cases. However, when they used the same techniques in the ‘pubertal’ tissue, only 7% developed seizure-activity.To make sure that it was the α4βδ receptor that accounted for this difference and not another factor, the team repeated their experiment using tissue from pubertal animals that had been bred to lack the gene that encodes α4βδ (instead of pubertal animals with normal α4βδ).Here they found no reduction in seizure-like activity in the pubertal tissue compared with pre-pubertal tissue. This suggests that the α4βδ receptor does indeed play a role in reducing seizure-like activity at puberty, in this model of epilepsy.Interestingly, the administration of drugs that selectively enhance inhibitory activity mediated by this receptor further decreased seizure-like activity in the brain of the animals. If the findings from this study are translatable to humans, a brand new avenue for epilepsy treatment will open.Dr Smith and colleagues concluded: “These findings suggest a mechanism for remission of epilepsy in adolescence and also suggest potential new therapies for childhood epilepsy.”The study was published in the leading journal Scientific Reports.Click here for more articles about brain science including genetics.