Press Release

Newborn cells in the epileptic brain provide a potential target for treatment

Cristy Lytal April 05, 2022
Newborn astroglia (green) in brain tissue from human epilepsy patients (Image by Aswathy Ammothumkandy/Bonaguidi Lab/USC Stem Cell)
Altered cells create an electrical “fire” in patients with epilepsy. (BioRender illustration by Aswathy Ammothumkandy/Bonaguidi Lab/USC Stem Cell)

(Originally posted at USC Stem Cell)

“Normally, astroglia are considered to be supporting cells, because their job is to create an environment where neurons can thrive,” said Ammothumkandy. “But in patients who have lived for many years with epilepsy, it might be immature astroglia that are contributing to both initiating and modulating chronic seizures.”

If this is the case, then immature astroglia could be an effective cell type to target by developing an entirely new class of anti-seizure medications.

“Currently available seizure medications tend to target neurons, so medications that act on immature astroglia could greatly expand the options for our patients,” said Liu, a professor of neurological surgery, neurology, and biomedical engineering, director of the USC Neurorestoration Center, and director of the USC Epilepsy Care Consortium. “A new class of drugs could combine with current medical and surgical strategies to control seizures without aggressive surgical removal of parts of the brain that can be critically important for learning, memory, and emotional regulation.”

Bonaguidi, Liu and Russin originally kicked off the project with pilot funding from an Eli and Edythe Broad Innovation Award, which supports faculty pursuing research collaborations related to stem cells. The study brought together clinicians, scientists and engineers from across the Keck School of Medicine of USC—including at the Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at USC, the USC Neurorestoration Center, and the Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute—the USC Epilepsy Care Consortium, the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, and the USC Davis School of Gerontology, as well as other universities and medical centers.

Additional co-authors include: Kristine Ravina, Victoria Wolseley, Pen-Ning Yu, Luis Corona, Naibo Zhang, George Nune, Laura Kalayjian, Brian Lee, Dong Song, Theodore W. Berger, Christianne Heck, and Robert H. Chow from USC; Jason A. D. Smith from USC and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center; Alexandria N. Tartt from the New York State Psychiatric Institute; J. John Mann, Victoria Arango, and Maura Boldrini from the New York State Psychiatric Institute and Columbia University; and Gorazd B. Rosoklija and Andrew J. Dwork from the New York State Psychiatric Institute, Columbia University, and the Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts.