A 1950s-era antihistamine and a zebrafish could, together, help the development of a new drug able to treat a severe type of epilepsy called Dravet syndrome.
Genetically passed-on, with symptoms that tend to emerge during early childhood, Dravet syndrome typically persists throughout the lives of those affected by it and can trigger hundreds of daily seizures.
Now, a UCSF (University of California, San Francisco) research team think they've discovered the tools through which it might be managed. Equally, they point to a potential new treatment for epilepsy in all its various guises.
Severe Epilepsy Treatment
Led by Scott Baraban, the severe epilepsy treatment development researchers have found that one particular mutated type of zebrafish shares its genetic mutation with that present in Dravet syndrome.
Dravet syndrome is caused by Scn1a gene mutations. Usually, this gene helps manage the flow of charged ions through neuron membranes but, when the mutation's present, the ions stream becomes excessive, the neurons become overactive and the seizures process begins.
Completely accidently, the UCSF researchers found that zebrafish prone to seizures because of this mutation could be treated with clemizole - an antihistamine now more than 50 years old.
Zebrafish Seizure Reduction
Details of this zebrafish seizure reduction research appear in a paper now published by Nature Communications. Funding for the study was supplied by the US National Institutes of Health's EUREKA (Exceptional, Unconventional Research Enabling Knowledge Acceleration) programme.
"This finding was completely unexpected", Baraban explained in a statement. "Based on what is currently known about clemizole, we did not predict that it would have antiepileptic effects."
He continued: "We were also surprised at how similar the mutant zebrafish drug profile was to that of Dravet patients. Antiepileptic drugs shown to have some benefits in patients (such as benzodiazepines or stiripentol) also exhibited some antiepileptic activity in these mutants. Conversely, many of the antiepileptic drugs that do not reduce seizures in these patients showed no effect in the mutant zebrafish."