CHARLOTTESVILLE — Scientists at at the University of Virginia School of Medicine are hopeful that a discovery they made about a certain type of immune cell will enable them to find new kinds of treatments brain injuries that result from seizures, according to a UVA press release.
In the study, which is a collaborative effort between UVA, Mayo Clinic and Rutgers University, scientists used an imaging technique called two-photon microscopy to observe what happened in the brains of lab mice after severe seizures.
What the researchers expected the immune cells to do was to absorb the damaged nerve endings left by the seizure. To their surprise, the immune cells (known as microglia) formed pouches and started to repair the swollen nerve branches, known as dendrites, that were damaged.
Over the course of several hours, scientists watched as these pouches, since named “microglial process pouches,” targeted some of the afflicted dendrites and made them look healthier than those nerves that had been left alone.
“There has been mounting generic support for the idea that microglia could be used to ameliorate seizures, but direct, visualized evidence for how they could do this has been lacking,” said Dr. Ukpong B. Eyo, a researcher with the UVA Department of Neuroscience. “Our results indicate that microglia may not be simply clearing debris but providing structural support for neuronal integrity that may have implications even beyond the scope of seizures and epilepsy.”
As exciting as this discovery is, the wheels of science and research move methodically.
“The precise mechanisms that regulate the interactions remain to be identified. Moreover, at present, the ‘healing’ feature is suggested from correlational results, and more definitive studies are required to certify the nature of the ‘healing,’” Eyo said. “If these questions can be answered, they will provide a rationale for developing approaches to enhance this process … in seizure contexts.”