A new drug which inhibits neonatal seizures could help treat newborns with epilepsy

An image to illustrate neonatal seizures
© iStock/chaikom

A new drug has been found to inhibit neonatal seizures in rodent models. It may help to treat human newborns with epilepsy.

Gluconate is an organic compound which is already widely used as an inactive food or drug additive. Researchers at Penn State have now published a paper describing how it works to inhibit neonatal seizures in rodents, and the potential for treating epilepsy in human newborns.

Neonatal seizures

Gong Chen, professor of biology and the Verne M. Willaman Chair in Life Sciences at Penn State and the leader of the research team, commented: “Neonates are the most vulnerable population to seizures but there is still no effective medication for the treatment of neonatal epilepsy. The incidence of epilepsy is highest in the first year of life, with two to four infant babies suffering from neonatal epilepsy for every 1,000 live births in the United States. Unfortunately, so far there is no effective drug available that is specifically developed for neonatal epilepsy patients.”

The new drug

The researchers identified that gluconate, which is found in fruit and honey, can act as an anticonvulsant to inhibit seizures. They work by targeting the activity of channels that control the flow of chloride ions in and out of neonatal neurons.

Zheng Wu, an assistant research professor at Penn State and the first author of the paper, explained: “Gluconate is a small organic compound that is produced through the oxidization of glucose in many plants, fruits, and honey. It has minimal side effects when compared to other organic ions. Because of this, our discovery of its anti-seizure function in neonates could have an accelerated path toward therapeutic development for use in the treatment of neonatal epilepsy.”

Future research on neonatal epilepsy

Chen. “Our studies not only identify a new drug target, the CLC-3 chloride channels, for neonatal epilepsy but also discovered two potential anticonvulsant drugs, gluconate and the ketone body β-HB, that can suppress neonatal seizures. Our work also opens a new avenue for other scientists to design even more specific and potent blockers for CLC-3 chloride channels to treat neonatal epilepsy.”

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