Led by Centre Director, Prof David Henshall, researchers from across FutureNeuro, in collaboration with international academic and industry partners have discovered a new way to regulate the activity of certain genes in the brain. The findings could help to improve brain health and provide new ways to manage seizures in people with epilepsy.
Like all the other parts of our body, our brain needs energy to function. However, the brain is exceptionally energy-demanding, using approximately 20% of the body’s fuel to efficiently process and transmit information. Inside every cell, there are microscopic structures known as mitochondria, acting as powerhouses, churning out the energy (ATP) that sustains our cells.
However, as a cell’s energy demands increase, so does the number of mitochondria, making mitochondrial health even more critical and increasing the potential for things to go wrong. This is seen in conditions like childhood genetic disorders, diseases affecting brain excitability, and ageing, all stemming from impaired mitochondrial function.
In the realm of epilepsy research, scientists have been delving into the intricacies of noncoding RNAs, tiny molecules that wield significant influence over more than half of our 20,000 genes. While previous studies focused on the abundance of these RNAs in brain samples, a recent study, published in Brain Communications, took a novel approach. This study uncovered a new player in the field, microRNA-376a, a regulator akin to a switch affecting gene activity in our cells. When this switch was turned off, it triggered increased levels of 19 genes crucial for mitochondrial function, energy, metabolism, and brain cell activity. Intriguingly, analysis of brain samples from individuals with treatment-resistant epilepsy unveiled lower levels of microRNA-376a, adding a new dimension to our understanding of this condition.
This discovery holds the promise of unlocking new avenues to enhance mitochondrial function, restore energy balance in the brain and could unveil new ways to manage seizures.
Read the full paper here.