A new study suggests that a gene commonly associated with bipolar disorder could have a role to play in epilepsy patients.

The findings, which relate a gene called ANK3, were published in scientific journal Molecular Psychology, following a research project led by Dr Edward Cooper at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.

Dr Cooper and his team discovered that a certain protein encoded by a variant of the ANK3 gene – typically reduced in people with bipolar disorder – was ‘selectively lost’ from inhibitory neurons (or ‘firing neurons’), meaning that the excitation/inhibition balance in such people was shifted towards excessive excitation.

In a mouse model deprived of the inhibitory form of ANK3, Dr Cooper and his team found that the animals suffered ‘frequent epileptic seizures’ and a significant risk of ‘sudden death’, according to reports.

Dr Cooper said: “We found that reduced expression of one type of ANK3 removes a brake on the output of brain neurons, leading to excesses in firing in circuits for emotions, memory and epilepsy.

“This showed us that imbalance in ANK3 function can result not only in excessive circuit sensitivity and output leading to bipolar disorder, but also severe epilepsy”.

Experts suggest that ANK3 could be targeted specifically by further scientists in the development of future treatments.

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