Grant round winners 2008

Nerve cells send electrical signals by controlling the amounts of tiny charged particles called ions inside them, moving them in or out via pores in the cell wall called ion channels. These are made up of a number of different building blocks, called subunits, which all have subtly different properties. In different parts of the brain, and in different types of cells, the same channel may be made up of different subunits. This allows very fine variations in function, depending on what the cell is needed to do.

One of the subunits in calcium channels is called alpha2delta. The anti-epileptic drugs gabapentin and pregabalin work by interacting with this subunit, though exactly how they do this and why this stops seizures isn’t understood. These drugs are also effective against particular type of pain condition caused by faulty nerve cells, where alpha2delta subunits are known to be increased in abundance. Are similar changes happening in epileptic foci, the areas of the brain where seizures start?

This study, by Professor Annette Dolphin of the Department of Pharmacology, University College London, will investigate whether the number and spread of alpha2delta subunits are changed in regions of the brain where seizure activity develops. The researchers, who were awarded £80,000 for their 18 month study called Calcium channel alpha2delta subunits in epilepsy, will use microscopy and cell staining methods to study these changes. This should illuminate how epileptic foci develop, and also how gabapentin and pregabalin work.

This is one of nine grants made by Epilepsy Research UK in 2008. Read about the other grants from 2008 here