by Vivienne Baillie Gerritsen

Many years ago, I was sitting opposite a man whose body suddenly froze. His eyes seemed to be staring at something on the wall behind me while his left hand drew small circles in the air, repetitively. I had no idea what was happening to him until he came back to his senses and told me that he had just had an epileptic fit. Deeply embarrassed, he got up and left the room. Many of us will have witnessed a close relative, a friend, an acquaintance or perhaps simply a passerby, under the influence of an epileptic seizure - which are frequently more violent and alarming than the one I experienced that day. Epilepsy affects millions of people worldwide. However, what is happening on the molecular scale remains elusive. What we do know is that an epileptic fit is caused by neural activity that has suddenly gone out of control. In this light, researchers discovered two tarantula venom peptides - Aa1a and Ap1a - which inhibit channels that are used to relay signals in our central nervous system. Peptides such as these could perhaps be used to keep abnormal neural activity at bay in people suffering from epilepsy.

Protein Spotlight (ISSN 1424-4721) is a monthly review written by the Swiss-Prot team of the SIB Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics. Spotlight articles describe a specific protein or family of proteins on an informal tone. Follow us: Subscribe · Twitter · Facebook

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