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Epilepsy Cure from a Tarantula

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A key ingredient in tarantula venom has been identified as a potential treatment for a devastating form of genetic epilepsy.

Dravet syndrome affects young children before their first birthday. Children live with a range of very serious symptoms, including delayed mental and behavioural development, and daily seizures. The disease can result in early death.

Dravet syndrome is caused by a mutation in the SCN1A gene, which produces a protein that calms electrical activity in the brain. Children with a mutation in one copy of the SCN1A gene only have half the normal amount of this protein, so the brain is overactive. This results in seizures and the other features of Dravet syndrome.

“We reasoned that if we could just make the remaining protein work harder, it would effectively pick up the slack – much like a cyclist on a tandem bicycle can help her exhausted passenger by pedalling harder to maintain speed,” says Prof Steven Petrou of the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health.

The researchers realised that the venom of the West African tarantula (Heteroscodra maculata) contains a small peptide called Hm1a that hyper-stimulates the protein affected in Dravet patients.

Before treatment with Hm1a, young Dravet mice displayed reduced activity in a specific type of brain cell whose job it is to reduce overall brain activity. However,...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.