Cilantro, also known as coriander, has been traditionally used as a folk medicine for thousands of years, with one of those uses being as an anticonvulsant to prevent the onset of epileptic seizures. New research from University of California, Irvine, has now for the first time homed in on the specific molecular action that explains how this herb can reduce seizures.

We know that some types of epileptic seizures are regulated through KCNQ potassium channels in the brain. This new study began by screening cilantro leaf metabolites to uncover what molecules most affect these potassium channels.

“We discovered that cilantro, which has been used as a traditional anticonvulsant medicine, activates a class of potassium channels in the brain to reduce seizure activity,” explains Geoff Abbott, principle investigator on the study. “Specifically, we found one component of cilantro, called dodecenal, binds to a specific part of the potassium channels to open them, reducing cellular excitability.”

Focused experiments revealed dodecenal could delay the onset of chemically-induced seizures in animal models, after prior research had found that a cilantro extract could delay the onset of seizures in rats. Studies with dodecenal revealed similar results, leading the researchers to conclude that dodecenal could be the molecular mechanism behind the anticonvulsant activity of cilantro.

The researchers describe this molecular action as “surprisingly influential,” and Abbott suggests dodecenal could be investigated as an effective anticonvulsant drug.

“This specific discovery is important as it may lead to more effective use of cilantro as an anticonvulsant, or to modifications of dodecenal to develop safer and more effective anticonvulsant drugs,” says Abbott.

The new research was published in the the FASEB Journal.

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