Resolve a mystery older than a century that could help treat epilepsy

in 1893, Camillo Golgi described for the first time perineural networks. However, their theories about the function of these structures surrounding some neurons in the central nervous system were totally wrong and, in fact, they had come this way to this day.

Now, a team of scientists from Virginia Tech Research Institute has finally given the true role of these structures, but the thing has not been there, because thanks to its discovery could develop new treatments against seizures in patients with acquired epilepsy. Double discovery, practically by chance.

Investigate on epilepsy caused by glioblastoma

the acquired epilepsy is one in which convulsions begin to develop from a brain injury, which can be caused by traumas, infections or tumors. Among the latter, one of the most studied is the glioblastoma. It is a very deadly type of cancer, which differs from other cancers because it can not grow freely, since it is imprisoned by bones of the skull. This could be an advantage if it were not because it has a series of biological mechanisms that allow it to expand freely in the rest of the brain.

It was precisely these mechanisms that were investigated by those responsible for this new study, which has just been published Communications of nature, when they found a new function for the perineural networks. But let's start from the beginning. How does glioblastoma spread?

As they could see, the tumor has the ability to secrete large quantities of glutamate, a neurotransmitter that, at very high levels, destroys nearby cells, so that there is enough space for glioblastoma to grow freely. On the other hand, they also observed that it generated enzyme that destroyed the extracellular matrix, which is a kind of "cement" that keeps the cells in place. But what surprised the research team most is that this enzyme also had the ability to do it attack the perineural networks. This would imply that these structures have a protective function against convulsions. However, this would not make sense based on Golgi's description. Therefore, more than a century later, they had to admit that this theory was wrong.

The protective role of GABA

In addition to glutamate, another neurotransmitter plays a very important role in seizures of epilepsy; even if, in this case, it is a defensive role. It is about GABA, which "calms" the neurons, avoiding overexcitation which leads to convulsions.

Interestingly, the neurons that secrete this neurotransmitter are surrounded by the perineural networks that the tumor has attacked. If Golgi had been right, the elimination of the "corset" would make it easier for these neurons to communicate, propitiating the crisis inhibition. However, the opposite effect was generated. The reason is that in reality the role of these networks it is not to silence the messages among the neurons, but to empower them. In fact, thanks to this cover, after activating an electrical impulse, the neurons can recharge and recover, twice as fast. This is why, by destroying the perineural networks, the tumor makes the GABA action much slower.

This result converts the enzyme that attaches them to a therapeutic goal very promising for the generation of new treatments. Further research would be necessary in this regard; but, according to the responsible of the result, it is possible that these results are extrapolated to other types of acquired epilepsy, in addition to those generated by tumors. Furthermore, as the doctor celebrated Harald Sontheimer, the principal researcher of the study, in a press release, has also solved a 125-year-old mystery of neuroscience. This is a clear example of the importance of unveiling the mysteries of the past in order to be able to walk towards the future and they, for the moment, seem to be moving along a good path.

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