Originally posted on Kava Science Forum, April 2017
Undergraduate research FTW.
“The biology lab tucked away in Snyder Hall of Science on the Greenville College campus may look unremarkable, but looks can be deceiving. There, students have discovered a potential key to relief for sufferers of neurological disorders. Their work has drawn international attention.
Juliana Phillips ’17, Kellie Steele ’18 and Michael Shawn Mengarelli ’15 recount their recent discovery in The Journal of Experimental Neuroscience, a peer reviewed international journal. Assistant Professor of Biology Bwarenaba Kautu supervised their work with help from Eric Nord, also assistant professor of biology.
The trio discovered that chemicals in kava seem to affect the transmission of acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter that is critical to vital functions like cognition, learning and memory, movement, muscle contractions and heartbeat.
“Many psychiatric and neurological disorders have been linked to problems with the transmission of acetylcholine,” Kautu explains. “To the best of my knowledge, our research team is most likely the first in the world to show the link between kava metabolism and acetylcholine transmission in an intact living eukaryotic nervous system (neuromuscular junction). These students are instrumental in this discovery.””
From the paper:
“The inhibitory-excitatory balance at the C elegans NMJ is maintained by the opposing actions of GABA and ACh. When the level of ACh signaling (excitation) is substantially greater than the level of GABA transmission (inhibition) at the C elegans NMJ, this results in muscle hypercontraction, which can manifest as a convulsion or paralysis. In our study, we showed that treatment of C elegans with kavalactones resulted in convulsions and paralysis (Figure 1). We hypothesized that these responses are indicative of elevated or prolonged ACh transmission at the NMJ.”
Kava is normally thought of as acting in a GABAergic way, so this result is the opposite of what one would expect.
Interestingly, they noted that kavain has a different effect on worms than the other KLs.
Kautu, Bwarenaba B., et al. “A Behavioral Survey of the Effects of Kavalactones on Caenorhabditis elegans Neuromuscular Transmission.” Journal of experimental neuroscience 11 (2017): 1179069517705384.
Full text available here: