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This article was published in June 2015. The information may be out of date. Please check our epilepsy information or our site A-Z.

Amino acid – as good as rescue medication?

24 Jun 2015

Scientists at the Johns Hopkins University (US) have assessed the biological role of an amino acid. They discovered that the amino acid successfully aborts a seizure even more effectively than rescue medication

The amino acid is called D-leucine. It is found in many foods and in certain examples of bacteria. It came to the attention of researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore (US) partly because they had no idea what it did.

What they did know was that it produced chemical by-products similar to those seen in the ketogenic diet. This diet is an accepted treatment for difficult-to-control epilepsies.

The Johns Hopkins team gave the amino acid to laboratory mice who were experiencing status epilepticus. D-leucine aborted the prolonged seizure.

A scientist in the laboratoryThe scientists then decided to test the amino acid against an established rescue medication – diazepam – to see which was most effective.

Incredibly, D-leucine outperformed diazepam in every respect. It aborted an ongoing seizure an average of 15 minutes earlier than diazepam. The laboratory mice returned to normal behaviour with no sign of the sedative side-effects seen with diazepam. D-leucine was even effective at low doses.

Interestingly, the Johns Hopkins research team assessed the effect of the amino acid on nerve receptors. Specifically, they wanted to see if it affected receptors known to be involved in seizure activity.

It didn’t. This means that – however the amino acid works – it must work differently to other available medications. This means that it may be effective in treating people with epilepsy whose seizures are not controlled by current medications.

Full study findings are available in the medical journal Neurobiology of Disease (October 2015).

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