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Epilepsy gene identified

9 May 2002

Researchers in Canada have discovered the gene that may play a key role in causing Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy (JME).

Dr Guy Rouleau and colleagues from McGill University Health Centre Research Institute in Montreal have identified that mutations in the gene GABA may be responsible for JME, which occurs mainly in children between the ages of 12 and 16.

Writing in the journal Nature Genetics, the researchers investigated 14 members of a French-Canadian family. In the eight people who have JME, the researchers found identical mutations of the GABA gene, while the six family members who did not have the condition did not carry the mutation. The researchers state that the gene plays a key role in the transmission of signals to the brain.

David Chadwick, professor of neurology at Liverpool University, welcomed the findings but said they could not be applied to the general population as a whole.

"The problem is these families are quite unusual," he said.

But speaking to BBC News, Professor Chadwick added: "With the advent of the human genome map, we are going to be in a position to find out really quickly how this might be applied to the general population.

"Up until now we have understood very little about the mechanisms that lead people to have epilepsy.

"The better we understand it the more accurately we can target therapies. All of these findings will have clinical implications in the future."