The herbal medicine, a leaf extract from the shrub Mallotus oppositifolius, was previously found to be effective in controlling seizures but the mechanism was unknown. The discovery, published in Nature Communications, found that two components of the Mallotus leaf extract activate KCNQ2/3, a potassium ion channel essential for controlling electrical activity in the brain. The two components were somewhat effective alone, but in combination were highly effective both at activating KCNQ2/3 channels and at preventing life-threatening seizures.
The UCI research team, comprising postdoctoral fellow Rían Manville, PhD and principal investigator Geoffrey Abbott, MSc, PhD, screened individual compounds from the leaf extract for channel opening activity, and then combined the two most active compounds to discover the therapeutic synergy contained in an African folk remedy used for centuries. Strikingly, one of the two compounds identified, isovaleric acid, is also a main component of valerian root, an herb used in ancient Greece as an insomnia sleep remedy, and for centuries by the English and also native Americans as an anticonvulsant. Valerian root is still used by as many as 2 million people each week in the United States as an herbal remedy for anxiety and insomnia.
Approach - Study - Plants - Use - Populations
"We are very interested in taking a molecular approach to ethnobotany -- the study of plants and their use by local populations -- to discover the molecular mechanisms for ancient remedies and to use this knowledge to create safer and more effective drugs. The KCNQ channels we study are typically opened by electrical activity, but we know that they are also incredibly sensitive to the presence of small molecules, including neurotransmitters, but...
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