Grant winner 2015

“This research will not only increase our understanding of epilepsy, but synaptic vesicles could prove a much-needed target for the development of new epilepsy drugs.” Dr Vincenzo Marra (pictured)

Grant type: Pilot grant in epilepsy

Principal investigator: Dr Vincenzo Marra

Institution: University of Leicester

Amount: £29,996

Duration: 8 months

Scientific titleAlterations in vesicular dynamics at excitatory and inhibitory synapses in chronic neocortical epilepsy

Why is this research needed?
Neurons in the brain communicate with each other via small contact points called synapses, using special molecules known as neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are either excitatory (meaning they try to activate connected neurons) or inhibitory (meaning they try to silence connected neurons). In epilepsy there is often a disruption to the normal balance between excitation and inhibition in the brain, but the structural changes that contribute to this are not fully understood.

What are the aims?
Dr Marra and his team plan to investigate whether small compartments called synaptic vesicles, which are responsible for storing and releasing neurotransmitter molecules, play a key role in altering the balance.

How will the research be carried out?
The latest technology allows synaptic vesicles to be labelled according to their behaviour, and for individual vesicles be studied. The group will take a rodent model of epilepsy, and healthy controls for comparison, and they will apply this technology to different types of synapse in the brain. They will be looking for an imbalance between excitatory or inhibitory synaptic vesicles in the epilepsy models.

What difference will it make?
Establishing the role of synaptic vesicles in epilepsy will greatly increase our understanding of the cellular and molecular bases of epilepsy. This will be particularly important in epilepsies where there is no ‘obvious cause’ (e.g. an underlying brain injury). In the long-term (approximately 5 years), synaptic vesicles could prove to be a viable new drug target for the control of seizures.