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Light-activated Compound May Be of Help for Epileptics in Future

scent tag to the steroid had disabled it.

"Normally, the steroid keeps the cell quiet in the face of stimuli that would otherwise cause it to fire," Mennerick says. "That's why drugs like barbiturates and Valium, which act on the same receptor as the steroid, are sedatives—they quiet the nerve system down."

When dosed with NBD-steroid, nerve cells still responded to stimuli as readily as they had prior to exposure. Just to see where the modified steroid was going, though, researchers exposed the cells to light.

"All of a sudden, the response to the steroid was back, and the nerve cells were more reluctant to react to stimuli," Mennerick says. "And we knew we had found something very interesting."

To confirm what was happening, scientists dosed two of a nerve cell's many different branches with NBD-steroid. When they shone a light on one of the branches, its readiness to respond decreased, while the readiness of the branch not exposed to light remained the same.

Department of Anesthesiology colleagues tested the compound's effects on tadpoles.

"Tadpoles rapidly take up drugs through their skin, so they're frequently used to test potential anesthetics," Mennerick notes. "And of course, given that it's a photoactive drug, they make a nice test subject because they're mostly translucent."

Tadpoles swimming in a solution of NBD-steroid went to sleep at the bottom of their beaker when exposed to light.

Mennerick and his colleagues are currently seeking to identify or create an animal model of epilepsy that lets them test the NBD-steroid's potential as a therapeutic. They are also looking for a new fluorescent tag that responds to longer wavelengths of light. Unlike many photoactive compounds, the NBD-steroid responds not to ultraviolet light but to light from the blue region of the electromagnetic spectrum. This helps because the longer wavelengths of blue light penetrate far
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