FRAXA Funds Study of High-fat, Low-carb Diets on Fragile X Seizures

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by Marisa Wexler MS |

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A $90,000 grant from the FRAXA Research Foundation will fund a preclinical study that aims to assess the potential benefits of a diet that is high in fat and low in carbohydrates for fragile X syndrome using mice and cell models.

A high fat/low carbohydrate diet is known to be highly effective in reducing the frequency of seizures in people with certain disorders. Two well-known examples of such a diet are the ketogenic diet and the Atkins diet.

“To our knowledge, no one has studied ketogenic, Atkins or other high fat/low carbohydrate diets in any model of Fragile X syndrome,” Cara Westmark, PhD, an assistant professor of neurology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who will be leading the upcoming research project, wrote on the FRAXA website.

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In prior research, Westmark and colleagues found that a low-carb ketogenic diet reduced the frequency of seizures in male mice in a model of fragile X, but not in their female counterparts. Some effects on diet were also observed on weight gain and activity levels during the daytime, with specific differences varying based on the mice’s age, sex, and genotype (specific disease-causing mutations).

Now, the researchers will test diets with varying levels of fat and carbohydrates to determine their effectiveness at reducing seizures in fragile X mice of both sexes. Specifically, the scientists will determine the effect of diet on seizures induced by sound, called audiogenic-induced seizures.

They also plan to examine the effect of these diets on mice’s circadian rhythms — the biological changes that the body goes through throughout the day, which help to regulate behaviors like sleeping and eating at regular times.

In addition to experiments in mice, the researchers aim to develop a cell culture model to screen the effects of diet on neuronal (nerve) cells. Essentially, they will test varying levels of different dietary components — fats, proteins, sugars, etc. — on nerve cell function and health. The researchers hope to figure out whether a particular diet component might be responsible for the effects of the diet seen in fragile X mice.

“Overall, the findings will provide proof-of-principle evidence to pursue testing high fat/low carbohydrate diets for the treatment of FXS [fragile X syndrome],” Westmark wrote.