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An interview with CURE Grantee, Dr. Hiroki Taniguchi

CURE GranteeDr. Hiroki Taniguchi, CURE grantee and a research group leader with the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience (MFPI), was recently awarded $100,000 by Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy (CURE) for his efforts to study cellular structures seeking to identify pathways for treatments or cures for epilepsy. Dr. Taniguchi has generously taken a moment away from his research to answer a few of our questions:

Dr. Taniguchi please tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to join the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience.

HT: In 2000, I received my Ph.D from the National Institute for Basic Biology in Japan.  After postdoctoral training at the National Institute for Basic Biology, Columbia University and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, I was appointed as a research group leader at MPFI in August, 2012.

Chandelier Cells (ChC) courtesy of the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience
Chandelier Cells (ChC) courtesy of the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience

What are Chandelier Cells, in layman’s terms if possible?

HT: Chandelier cells (ChCs) are a unique subtype of inhibitory neurons, which forms synapses at axon initial segments (AISs), sites of neuronal spike initiation, of excitatory pyramidal neurons. They are also called axo-axonic cells.

How are they different from / how do they interact with neurotransmitters?

HT: Most of inhibitory neurons usually form synapses on cell bodies and dendrites. As ChCs specifically form synapses at AIS they can exert the most powerful inhibitory effect on postsynaptic target neurons. This feature makes ChCs very special.

Anticonvulsant medication is the most common form of treatment? How could your research change that approach?HT: Because the cell transplantation is more specific and local treatment than anticonvulsant drugs we can expect no or less side effects. Also, if the transplantation approach works patients don’t have to keep taking medicines, which is not trivial.

First, we will try to rescue a seizure phenotype in epilepsy model mice by transplantation of ChC progenitors. Second, we will identify transcriptional mechanisms that differentiate stem cells into ChCs, which will allow us to get enough amount of ChCs from stem cells. In 2012, the Nobel Prize was awarded to the finding of a method to produce induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) from somatic cells such as skin cells. Our basic knowledge on ChCs together with this novel technique will bring a revolution to an epilepsy cure.

Well Dr. Taniguchi, we could definitely use a revolution. I’m curious, how did you come to be interested in epilepsy research within the field of Neuroscience?

HT: I have been interested in development and function of GABA neuron subtypes in normal brains. Recently, I discovered a genetic strategy to specifically manipulate and label ChCs in mouse brains. Since ChCs are expected to play an important role in normal brain functions, I assumed there must be neurological diseases that could be caused by defects in ChCs and thought my genetic methods should be very useful to find cause, treatments and cures. During my literature search, I realized that the defects in ChC synapses is a common observation in human epilepsy patients. This is the reason why I started to be interested in epilepsy research.

“The use of chandelier cells has the potential to revolutionize our treatment of epilepsy,” said Dr. Hiroki Taniguchi. “If transplanting inhibitory neurons works, we might uncover a cure rather than simply treatments for epilepsy, involving significantly less side effects than anticonvulsant medications used in current treatments.”

You were recently awarded a 100K grant by CURE. What does it mean for your work now that you have become a CURE grantee?

HT: I just opened my own lab last August. Thanks to this grant we can hire personnel and buy reagents to perform gene expression studies. This will facilitate my entry into epilepsy research and promote to make my strong team for epilepsy studies.

What do you hope will come out of your team’s research?

HT: We would like to show the transplantation of ChCs is effective to rescue epileptic phenotype in mouse models. We also would like to identify transcription factors that determines ChC characters.

Living Well With Epilepsy readers range from newly diagnosed to those who have had epilepsy for decades, they have a wide variety of seizure types and they are from all over the world. Is there any one message you would like to communicate to this group?

HT: A lot of researchers at basic and clinical levels are making a tremendous daily effort to find causes, treatments and cures. Please remember your pain is also many other’s pain.

What comes next, now that your group has received funding?

HT: We will start collaboration with Dr. Jeffrey Noebels at Baylor College of Medicine, one of world-wide leaders in epilepsy research to study the effect of ChC transplantation on epilepsy phenotype in model mice.  We have also begun gene expression studies to identify genes required for ChC differentiation.

Hopefully, in two years we would like to get results and publish papers in related journals.  The success in this project will promise to get another big grant, bring more collaboration with translational and clinical researchers and eventually lead to practical applications for epilepsy cure.

Thank You
Thank you Dr.Taniguchi for your time and your dedication.

Here are links to more information on Dr. Taniguchi’s work on Chandelier Cells (ChC) and on his work at Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience.

Please comment below to let us know what you think about Dr. Taniguchi’s research.

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2 Responses

  1. Jaime Baquc
    |

    As a local pediatric epileptologist, who sees a lot of the genetic epilepsies. Have a few proven SCN1/2, channelopathies (one ukcase Of hyper K periodic paralysis), but your work has tremendous threrapeutic potential from translation to end product. See we are still not doing that great with traditional antiepileptic medication…. So the more relevance to your work.

    • Jessica
      |

      Dr. Baquero,
      Thank you for your comment. It’s so important to hear from docs on the front lines. Let us know if there are specific topics you would like to see covered on the site.
      Jessica