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Researchers find traditional medicine plant extracts may treat ataxia

Washington, Jun 21 (Prensa Latina) A University of California, Irvine-led team of researchers has discovered that extracts from plants used by the Kwakwaka'wakw First Nations peoples in their traditional botanical medicine practices are able to rescue the function of ion channel proteins carrying mutations that cause human episodic ataxia.

“Episodic ataxia 1 (EA1) is a movement disorder caused by inherited mutations in the human KCNA1 gene, which encodes Kv1.1, a voltage-gated potassium channel essential for normal function of the human nervous system,” said Geoffrey W. Abbott, Ph.D., vice dean of basic science research and professor in the Department of Physiology & Biophysics at the UCI School of Medicine. “We found that extracts of stinging nettle, bladderwrack kelp and Pacific ninebark can all correct function of the mutation-carrying proteins causing a specific form of ataxia.”

Abbott’s research team also found that two compounds contained in these plants, tannic acid and gallic acid, are each able to rescue activity of the EA1-linked mutation-carrying ion channel proteins.

Individuals with ataxia exhibit abnormal gait, slurring, eye movement abnormalities, difficulties with balance and walking, tremors, and disruption of fine motor skills.

“These mutations can cause other disorders, including epilepsy, and so there is therapeutic potential for those conditions as well, ” said Abbott.

“We have discovered that where modern synthetic drug development techniques have failed to produce a drug that directly rescues EA1-linked mutant channel function, traditional botanical medicine developed by North American First Nation peoples has succeeded.”

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