For decades, neurologists have known that a diet high in fat and extremely low in carbohydrates can reduce epileptic seizures that resist drug therapy. But how the diet worked, and why, was a mysteryso much so that in 2010, The New York Times Magazine called it "Epilepsy's Big, Fat Miracle."
Now, researchers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School have proposed an answer, linking resistance to seizures to a protein that modifies cellular metabolism in the brain. The research, to be published in the May 24th issue of the journal Neuron, may lead to the development of new treatments for epilepsy.
The research was led jointly by Nika Danial, HMS assistant professor of cell biology at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and Gary Yellen, professor of neurobiology at Harvard Medical School. The first author was Alfredo Gimnez-Cassina, a research fellow in Danial's lab.
Epilepsy is a neurological disorder characterized by repeated seizures, an electrical storm in the brain that can manifest as convulsions, loss of motor control, or loss of consciousness. Some cases of epilepsy can be improved by a diet that drastically reduces sugar intake, triggering neurons to switch from their customary fuel of glucose to fat byproducts called ketone bodies. The so-called ketogenic diet, which mimics effects of starvation, was described more than 80 years ago and received renewed interest in the 1990s. Recent studies corroborate that it works, but shed little light on how.
"The connection between metabolism and epilepsy has been such a puzzle," said Yellen, who was introduced to the ketogenic diet through his wife, Elizabeth Thiele, HMS professor of neurology, who directs the Pediatric Epilepsy Program at MassGeneral Hospital for Children, but was not directly involved in the study. "I've met a lot of kids whose lives are completely changed by this diet," Yellen said. "It's amazingly effective, and it works for many kids for
|Contact: David Cameron|
Harvard Medical School