Potential treatment for dementia, epilepsy targets toxic gas in the brain

READING, United Kingdom — When people think about how the brain works, electrical signals and brain cells probably come to mind. Few people probably think there’s a toxic gas in their head causing neurological damage. However, that’s exactly what researchers believe may be contributing to dementia and epilepsy. Their study finds a new treatment which reduces this gas may prevent both diseases.

A team from the United States and United Kingdom find reducing levels of hydrogen sulfide (H2S) wards off brain damage. Scientists have connected the effects of this gas on the brain to both dementia and epilepsy. While studying rat brain cells, study authors discovered H2S blocks a key cell gateway which helps the brain communicate properly.

“This is an exciting finding as it gives us new insights about the role of hydrogen sulfide in various brain diseases, such as dementia and epilepsy. There has been growing interest in the effect of this gas on the brain and this study shows how important the implications of its build-up on proper brain functioning may be,” says Dr. Mark Dallas from the University of Reading in a release.

“We saw that hydrogen sulfide acts to disrupt the normal functioning of potassium channels. These channels regulate electrical activity across the connections between brain cells, and when these channels are blocked from working properly we see overexcitable brain cells which we believe is leading to nerve cell death,” the associate professor of Cellular Neuroscience continues.

“The implication for potential treatments is particularly exciting because finding drugs that target hydrogen sulfide production in our brains may have a host of benefits for diseases, and there are clear links between hydrogen sulfide build -up and other warning signs for diseases such as Alzheimer’s.”

Finding the right mutation to stop brain damage

During the study, researchers took cells from rat brains and charged them with a H2S donor molecule. The team then monitored the resulting electrical signals from these cells.

Study authors report the exposure to H2S increased the activity in brain cells. Moreover, the results established that this effect was controlled by the potassium channel Dallas’ team tested. From there, researchers identified which part of the channel was allowing hydrogen sulfide to affect the brain.

To do this, scientists used a mutated form of this potassium channel capable of protecting nerves cells from various toxins. These toxins include amyloid beta, one of the key proteins which build up in the brain and cause Alzheimer’s onset.

The results reveal this mutated channel could resist the effect of H2S, which normally damages natural cells. This potassium channel mutation is now of particular interest to Alzheimer’s researchers, since it may defend against the leading form of dementia worldwide.

“This exciting study demonstrates the growing evidence that gasotransmitters play an important role as signaling molecules in the regulation of the physiological processes underlying Alzheimer’s disease, which are relatively poorly understood, opening new avenues for investigation and drug discovery,” Dr. Moza Al-Owais from the University of Leeds concludes.

The study appears in the journal Scientific Reports.

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