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Anti-dandruff compound may help treat epilepsy

5 Jun 2007

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University,
USA have discovered that an ingredient used in anti-dandruff shampoos
can also calm overexcited nerve cells in the brain, making it a
potential treatment for epilepsy.

The results of the study have been
published in Nature Chemical Biology.

and other seizure disorders result when nerves excessively or
inappropriately "fire" in the brain. The brain's 'off' switches fail
partly because of protein defects that prevent potassium from exiting
nerve cells and calming them.

Min Li, Ph.D., professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins, said, "Channels that carry potassium must open on cue to make sure nerve cells only fire for defined periods of time."

Li and his colleagues developed a new way of testing molecules to find
any that could turn the potassium switch on or off. They chemically
shaved off all the potassium channels on the cell surface and forced
the cells to make new channels. By measuring the activity of the new
channels, the researchers could identify the molecules that accelerated
the recovery.

One chemical that proved quite effective
in improving channel recovery was zinc pyrithione (ZnPy), the active
ingredient in many dandruff shampoos.

"Most drug
discoveries uncover chemicals that stop things from working - it's a
lot easier to close or block a door than open it," Li says. "But here
we found a chemical that makes a defective protein work better. So now
we have a chance to actually try to fix the causes of epilepsy, rather
than traditionally circumventing them. Plus, this study really shows
that we don't fully appreciate the biological roles of many familiar
chemicals that surround us."