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Evolution and epilepsy
Date:1/21/2009

to generate such rapid signals, generally relied on smaller body size and simpler nervous systems.

Potassium Channels as Shock Absorbers

Potassium channel clustering arose later and complements sodium channel signaling. Unlike sodium channels, none of the potassium channels of very early chordates had the clustering sequence. Potassium channel clustering sequences first appeared in a vertebrate ancestral to sharks, "only" around 400 to 450 million years ago.

The clustered potassium channels serve an important supporting function, making nerve signals that are started by sodium channels more controllable. "Sudden openings by a lot of sodium channels clustered together can be jarring and unpredictable for the nerve cell, like a car hitting a bump in the road." says Cooper. "The potassium channels are like the shock absorbers on the car's suspensionthey dampen some of the oscillations caused when the sodium channels open and calm the nerve, just as shock absorbers reduce bouncing and help maintain control on a bumpy road." The fact that this combination of channels clustered together on nerves has been completely conserved for about 400 million years in all types of vertebrates underlines its importance, as does the fact that epilepsy results when the clusters are disrupted.

In related studies, the researchers tested whether a drug that causes increased openings by the axons' clustered potassium channels might be effective in preventing seizures in newborns. They found that an opener, called flupirtine, was more powerful in preventing seizures than either of two drugs now in frequent clinical use, phenobarbital and diazepam. These experiments used established models of neonatal epilepsy, performed on immature rats. Next steps include additional tests of the safety of flupirtine in immature animals, and then, consideration of possible trials in human infants.

The Need for Speed

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Contact: Karen Kreeger
karen.kreeger@uphs.upenn.edu
215-349-5658
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine
Source:Eurekalert  

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