The University Record, February 18, 1997

U-M , Texas researchers discover epilepsy gene in mice

Photo of Meisler

By Kristen Lidke
Medical Center Public Relations


Scientists at the Medical Center, in collaboration with researchers in Texas, have identified a gene in lab mice that may cause petit mal epilepsy---a less severe form of the more commonly known seizure disorder called grand mal epilepsy.

This finding, reported in the most recent issue of the journal Cell, will help pave the way for locating similar genes in human DNA and represents a bright spot in the decade-long search for the genetic causes of epilepsy.

Miriam Meisler, professor of human genetics, says now that the research team has found the first of what they suspect to be several epilepsy-causing genes in mice, it will tackle cloning the human genes responsible for epilepsy. The disease affects some 100 million people around the world.

Meisler, who has been researching human and mouse genetics for 25 years, has spent the past six years working on neurological disease genes. She says that chromosome maps have been developed that allow researchers to compare mouse chromosomes to their human counterparts. By determining the chromosomal location of a disease gene in a mouse, the location of the related human disease gene can be predicted.

"This finding will help us go on to evaluate the gene in humans, to determine whether it also plays a role in human epilepsy, and whether drugs that work through calcium channels may provide effective treatment for some types of epilepsy," says Meisler, who worked on the project with senior research associate Julie M. Jones and alumnus Dan Burgess, now a postdoctoral fellow at Baylor University.

Petit mal epilepsy differs from the better-known grand mal epilepsy in that it causes brief trancelike episodes in which the patient becomes motionless, staring into space. These "absence seizures" are not life-threatening, but they can be disruptive in daily life.