An innovative experiment using inhibitory brain cells in mice offers hope of controlling violent epileptic seizures.

Epilepsy, a neurological disorder characterized by repeated seizures, can be as scary as it is unpredictable. Fortunately, scientists at the University of California, San Francisco, are now one step closer to finding a cure for the debilitating disease.

By implanting inhibitory cells in the brains of mice, the researchers were able to control epileptic seizures in the animals, and their technique may point the way to a cure for the disorder in humans.

The new study, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, is a breakthrough in the field of epilepsy research. According to the Epilepsy Foundation, the disorder affects 65 million people worldwide. Treatments include medication and surgery, but there is currently no definitive cure.

“Our results are an encouraging step toward using inhibitory neurons for cell transplantation in adults with severe forms of epilepsy,” said lead author Dr. Scott C. Baraban in a press release. “This procedure offers the possibility of controlling seizures and rescuing cognitive deficits in these patients.”

During the one-time procedure, researchers transplanted medial ganglionic eminence (MGE) cells into epileptic mice to target nerve circuits in the brain’s hippocampus. This region of the brain is thought to be responsible for seizures.

The MGE cells prevented, or inhibited, nerve cells in the brain from firing rapidly to cause an epileptic seizure. “These cells migrate widely and integrate into the adult brain as new inhibitory neurons,” Baraban said.

The researchers also created human MGE-like cells to implant into healthy mice. These cells also caused an inhibitory response in the animals’ brains. Research on this further experiment was published in the journal Cell Stem Cell.

Though the experiment was not conducted on people, the parallels between the disorder in mice and humans are encouraging. The lab mice were engineered with a brain condition that mimics a drug-resistant form of epilepsy in humans called mesial temporal lobe epilepsy.

“This is the first report in a mouse model of adult epilepsy in which mice that already were having seizures stopped having seizures after treatment,” Baraban reported.

Experiments on lab mice can never completely predict the impact of a drug or procedure on human patients, but the UCSF study is an important jumping-off point for scientists investigating brain disorders.