Human brain Stops developing at 25

NIH-funded study suggests role for adenosine in molecular processes involved in epilepsy

Example of Silk Implant Used in the Study

Silk implants designed to release adenosine were placed into rat brains to stop the spread of epilepsy. Image courtesy of Dr. Boison, from Legacy Research Institute and OHSU.

Silk has walked straight off the runway and into the lab. According to a new study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, silk implants placed in the brain of laboratory animals and designed to release a specific chemical, adenosine, may help stop the progression of epilepsy. The research was supported by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) and the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), which are part of the National Institutes of Health.

The epilepsies are a group of neurological disorders associated with recurring seizures that tend to become more frequent and severe over time. Adenosine decreases neuronal excitability and helps stop seizures. Earlier studies have suggested abnormally low levels of adenosine may be linked to epilepsy.

Rebecca L. Williams-Karnesky, Ph.D. and her colleagues from Legacy Research Institute, Portland, Ore., Oregon Health and Sciences University (OHSU), Portland, and Tufts University, Boston, looked at long-term effects of an adenosine-releasing silk-implant therapy in rats and examined the role of adenosine in causing epigenetic changes that may be associated with the development of epilepsy.

The investigators argue that adenosine’s beneficial effects are due to epigenetic modifications (chemical reactions that change the way genes are turned on or off without altering the DNA code, the letters that make up our genetic background). Specifically, these changes happen when a molecule known as a methyl group blocks a portion of DNA, affecting which genes are accessible and can be turned on. If methyl groups have been taken away (demethylated), genes are more likely to turn on.

The results reported in the paper provided evidence that changing adenosine levels affects DNA methylation in the brain. Specifically, greater amounts of adenosine were associated with lower levels of DNA methylation. The investigators also demonstrate that rats induced to develop epilepsy have higher levels of methylated DNA. Of particular note, epileptic rat brains that had received the adenosine-releasing silk implants exhibited DNA methylation levels close to brains of normal rats and this significantly lessened the worsening of the epilepsy over time.

“We know that there are mutations that are associated with epilepsy. However, there are few people such as Dr. Detlev Boison who are doing this type of work, focusing not just on genetic mutations but how the genes are regulated, ” said Vicky Whittemore, Ph.D., program director at NINDS.

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Q&A

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When does the human brain stop developing?

Brains don't stop developing significantly until people are in their 20s.Then development continues at a drastically reduced rate.

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