[ Back to EurekAlert! ] Public release date: 17-Oct-2009
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Contact: Karen Mallet
km463@georgetown.edu
215-514-9751
Georgetown University Medical Center

A new understanding of why seizures occur with alcohol withdrawal

CHICAGO Epileptic seizures are the most dramatic and prominent aspect of the "alcohol withdrawal syndrome" that occurs when a person abruptly stops a long-term or chronic drinking habit. Researchers have shown that the flow of calcium ions into brain cells via voltage-gated calcium channels plays an important role in the generation of alcohol withdrawal seizures, because blocking this flow suppresses these seizures. But do the changes in calcium currents contribute to alcohol withdrawal seizures or are they a consequence of the seizures?

Using a careful analysis of correlations between the course of alcohol withdrawal seizures and the expression of calcium currents, Georgetown University Medical Center researchers found that the enhancement of total calcium current density in pre-clinical animal studies occur prior to the onset of alcohol withdrawal seizures. The research presented at 39th annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience also shows that calcium currents remain enhanced during the period of seizure susceptibility, but return to control levels when the period of seizure susceptibility is over.

"These preliminary findings are the first to indicate that altered calcium channel activity contributes to the occurrence of alcohol withdrawal seizures," explains lead author, Prosper N'Gouemo, PhD, an assistant professor in the department of pediatrics at GUMC. "The next step in our research is to determine which types of voltage-gated calcium channels contribute to the enhanced current density that takes place before the onset of alcohol withdrawal seizures so a potential treatment can be developed."

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The study was funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health. The author reports no related financial conflict.

About Georgetown University Medical Center

Georgetown University Medical Center is an internationally recognized academic medical center with a three-part mission of research, teaching and patient care (through Georgetown's affiliation with MedStar Health). GUMC's mission is carried out with a strong emphasis on public service and a dedication to the Catholic, Jesuit principle of cura personalis or "care of the whole person." The Medical Center includes the School of Medicine and the School of Nursing and Health Studies, both nationally ranked, the world-renowned Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Biomedical Graduate Research Organization (BGRO), home to 60 percent of the university's sponsored research funding.



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