Restricting calorie intake could protect brain cells from damage and have a beneficial effect in epilepsy, according to a rodent study published in the scientific journal, Aging Cell.Several studies on animal models have suggested a link between calorie intake and a longer lifespan, however the molecular mechanism of how restricting calorie intake can protect against disease is not well understood.Now, researchers at the Center for Research on Redox Processes in Biomedicine (Redoxoma), in Brazil, have shown that reducing calorie intake by 40% can increase the amount of calcium that is retained in mitochondria (the cell’s powerhouses) when calcium levels inside cells are abnormally high. This could help prevent neuronal death associated with epilepsy and other neurological conditions.First Author, Dr Ignacio Amigo, said: “More than promoting the advantages of eating frugally, we aim to understand the mechanisms that make not over consuming calories better for health. This can point to new targets for the development of drugs against various diseases.”The team gave one group of rodents food and water ad libitum (meaning that they could eat and drink as much as they wanted) for 14 weeks, and they restricted the food intake of another group of animals by 40%. The first group of animals became overweight at the end of the 14 weeks period, whilst those in the second group did not.The animals were then injected with a substance called kainic acid, which promotes calcium influx into neurons and is used to induce seizures. When they isolated the mitochondria from the brain cells of the animals, the researchers saw that there was a higher level of mitochondrial calcium uptake in the mitochondria of the animals whose diet was restricted.It is known that calcium plays an important role in the communication between nerve cells. Conditions like epilepsy can cause an excessive release of calcium into neurons due to the over activation of receptors called glutamate receptors, which can damage and even kill the neurons. Previous research has shown that an increased mitochondrial calcium uptake can have a protective effect against this calcium influx.The researchers also observed that the activity of antioxidant enzymes was increased in the mitochondria of the diet-restricted animals, suggesting an enhanced capacity to manage oxidative stress and therefore protect against neurological conditions.According to the team, the proteins whose activity has been altered by a reduced calorie intake could potentially be targeted to develop new therapies for conditions such as epilepsy, where excessive calcium influx leads to neuronal death.Author: Dr Özge Özkaya   Click here to read more stories about living with epilepsy.