CNC-UC research team receives 782 thousand euros to study neurodevelopment disorders and epilepsy

A project coordinated by the Center for Neuroscience and Cell Biology of the University of Coimbra (CNC-UC), dedicated to study neurodevelopment diseases and epilepsy, to develop more effective therapeutic options, has received 782 thousand euros by the “La Caixa” Foundation, within the call “Health Research 2020”.

The project, entitled “MStar - Potassium channel dysfunction in models of neurodevelopmental disorders”, has the main objective of explore the connections between neuropsychiatric diseases and epilepsy, in order to develop better treatments for these pathologies, as it is known that around half of the individuals affected with intellectual deficits have epilepsy, and schizophrenia patients have an increased risk to have seizures, when compared to the rest of the population. This way, it is thought that perturbances in the development of the brain (as the intellectual deficit and schizophrenia) and epilepsy share cellular mechanisms that could underlie their origin.

“Neuropsychiatric disorders are the second highest cause of healthy years lost by inability, and are frequently aggravated by the occurrences of epileptic episodes. However, in most cases, how these pathologies are connected is unknown”, explains Ana Luísa Carvalho, project coordinator and teacher at the Life Sciences Department of the Faculty of Sciences and Technology of the University of Coimbra.

In this way, she also enlightens, “in this project, we will explore a regulation mechanism in the neuronal activity which we believe it is compromised in several neurodevelopment disorders, such as intellectual deficit and schizophrenia, and is simultaneously involved in the increase of epilepsy susceptibility”.

One of the cornerstones of this project are the previous results, explored by this CNC research group leader, focused in the analysis of neuronal functions, such as the excitability of neurons, which are a responsibility of the proteins known as M channels, a family of potassium channels. The researchers uncovered a new regulation mechanism of neuronal excitability, by the regulation of M channels, which depends of a mutated gene, displayed by some patients with intellectual deficit disorders or schizophrenia. Moreover, the Money now attributed by the “La Caixa” Foundation will allow to search how this mechanism regulated M channels, and test directed therapies to the dysfunctional regulation mechanisms that may underlie the onset of epileptic episodes.

In this study, with a duration of 3 years, it will be used animal models for these diseases, as well as human cells “differentiated in neurons, which contain mutations associated with intellectual deficits and schizophrenia, and which increase the susceptibility to epilepsy”, affirms Ana Luísa Carvalho, highlighting that the project “on one hand, it explores a new mechanism of regulation of the M-type potassium channels, regulators of neuronal excitability, and, on the other hand, it aims to comprehend how the alterations in this mechanism may link to the onset of epilepsy and neurodevelopment disorders. The comprehension of this connection is essential in the development of more directed therapies”.

Other than Ana Luísa Carvalho, the team also inclused Paulo Pinheiro, Irina Moreira, Ângela Inácio, Gladys Caldeira, Marina Rodrigues, also CNC-UC researchers. The project is inserted in a research consortium composed by CNC-UC and the Institute for Interdisciplinary Neuroscience (IINS), of the University of Bordeaux.

The “Health Research” program is financed by the Iniciativa Ibérica de Investigación y Innovación Biomedica, promoted by the “La Caixa” Foundation and by the Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT). The program, according to the “La Caixa” Foundation, aimed to research projects and development in biomedicine and health, wants to “identifiy and promote scientific excellency initiatives of bigger potential and impact on society, whether on basic research, or on clinic and translational research.”.

Credits: Ana Luísa Carvalho, Cristina Pinto e João Cardoso
Funded by ERDF - European Regional Development Fund through COMPETE 2020 and National Funds via FCT - Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia, under projects POCI-01-0145-FEDER-007440 e UIDB/04539/2020.

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