Scientists Discover New Seizure Disorder Drug with the Help of Zebrafish

First Posted: Sep 03, 2013 04:09 PM EDT

Researchers may have come across a new drug to treat epilepsy thanks to the help of the zebrafish. More specifically, this type of fish may be carrying a specific mutation that researchers found could help treat Drave syndrome (DS), a severe form of pediatric seizure disorder that results in drug-resistant seizures and developmental delays. 

Study authors looked to determine whether mutated zebrafish could work as a model for DS after working to create a screening method that helps to identify potential treatments for the health issue through the fish.

Dravet syndrome, also known as Severe Myoclonic Epilepsy of Infancy (SMEI) is a rare and catastrophic form of intractable epilepsy that begins in infancy. Initial seizures experienced can be commonly prolonged in the second year of life and other seizure types may begin to emerge as life goes on, according to the Dravet Syndrome Foundation. Development typically remains on track until the second year of life when the children will face a higher incidence of sudden unexplained death in epilepsy (SUDEP) associated with various conditions that need various medical treatments.

Background information from the study notes that this type of epilepsy is commonly caused by a mutation in the Scn1a gene and is encoded for Nav1.1, otherwise known as a specific sodium ion channel that's located in the brain.

The researchers found that the zebrafish that were engineered to have the Scn1a mutation that causes DS in humans also exhibits some of the same characteristics of spontaneous seizures that are commonly seen in children with DS.

"We were also surprised at how similar the mutant zebrafish drug profile was to that of Dravet patients," Dr. Baraban said, via Science Daily. "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."

The researchers worked to develop a fast and automated screening process that could quickly test the effectiveness of various compounds in mutant zebrafish. The researchers looked at the behavior that measured brain activity in the mutant fish in order to determine the impact the compounds had on their seizures.

These findings suggest that the mutations found in the zebrafish can serve as a model for the health problem that may be effective in quickly identifying novel therapies for epilepsy. 

More information regarding this study can be found in Nature Communications

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