Musical brain patterns could help predict epileptic seizures

June 15, 2012

The research led by Newcastle University's Dr Mark Cunningham and Professor Miles Whittington and supported by the Dr Hadwen Trust for Humane Research, indicates a novel electrical bio-marker in humans.

The produces electrical rhythms and using EEG - electrodes on the scalp - researchers were able to monitor the in patients with epilepsy. Both in patients and in brain the team were able to witness an abnormal brain wave noticeable due to its rapidly increasing frequency over time.

Comparing these to a musical 'glissando', an upwards glide from one pitch to another, the team found that this brain rhythm is unique to humans and they believe it could be related to epilepsy.

Dr Cunningham, senior lecturer in Neuronal Dynamics at Newcastle University said: "We were able to examine EEG collected from patients with drug resistant epilepsy who were continually monitored over a two week period. During that time we noticed patterns of electrical activity with rapidly increasing frequency, just like glissandi, emerging in the lead-up to an epileptic seizure."

"We are in the early days of the work and we want to investigate this in a larger group of patients but it may offer a promising insight into when a seizure is going to start."

Professor Whittington added: "Classical composers such as Gustav Mahler are famous for using notes of rapidly increasing pitch – called glissando - to convey intense expressions of anticipation. Similarly we identified glissando-like patterns of brain electrical activity generated in anticipation of seizures in patients with epilepsy."

The team recorded taken from patients in Newcastle and Glasgow with the help of collaborators Dr Roderick Duncan and Dr Aline Russell and worked in collaboration with the Epilepsy Surgery Group at Newcastle General Hospital part of the Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

Having received permission from patients to use brain tissue removed during an operation to cure their seizures, the team were able to observe and study in great detail glissando discharges in slices of this human epileptic tissue maintained in the lab.

Publishing in Epilepsia online, the team discovered that glissandi are highly indicative of pathology associated with human epilepsy and, unlike other forms of epileptic activity studied previously, are extremely difficult to reproduce in normal, non-epileptic brain tissue. The team worked with Professor Roger Traub at the IBM Watson Research Centre in New York to provide predictions using highly detailed computational models. By manipulating the chemical conditions surrounding human epileptic according to these predictions, they discovered that glissandi did not require any of the conventional chemical connections between nerve cells thought to underlie most brain functions. Instead, glissandi were generated by a combination of large changes in the pH of the tissue, specific electrical properties of certain types of nerve cell and, most importantly, direct electrical connections between these nerve cells.

"This work also suggests that given the lengths one has to go to reproduce this experimentally in rodents that the glissandi may be a unique feature of the human epileptic brain," explains Dr Cunningham.

Dr Kailah Eglington, Chief Executive of the Dr Hadwen Trust, said: "Of all human brain disorders, epilepsy research ranks as one that currently employs substantial numbers of laboratory animals worldwide.

"Dr Cunningham's work at Newcastle University aims to address the shortcomings of existing animal-based research by removing animals from the equation and addressing the issue directly in humans."

More information: Glissandi: Transient fast electrocorticographic oscillations of steadily increasing frequency, explained by temporally increasing gap junction conductance. Mark O. Cunningham, Anita Roopun, Ian S. Schofield, Roger G. Whittaker, Roderick Duncan , Aline Russell, Alistair Jenkins, Claire Nicholson, Miles A. Whittington, Roger D. Traub. Epilepsia, 2012 (In Press)

Related Stories

Recommended for you

New insights on how cocaine changes the brain

November 25, 2015

The burst of energy and hyperactivity that comes with a cocaine high is a rather accurate reflection of what's going on in the brain of its users, finds a study published November 25 in Cell Reports. Through experiments conducted ...

Can physical exercise enhance long-term memory?

November 25, 2015

Exercise can enhance the development of new brain cells in the adult brain, a process called adult neurogenesis. These newborn brain cells play an important role in learning and memory. A new study has determined that mice ...

Umbilical cells help eye's neurons connect

November 24, 2015

Cells isolated from human umbilical cord tissue have been shown to produce molecules that help retinal neurons from the eyes of rats grow, connect and survive, according to Duke University researchers working with Janssen ...

Brain connections predict how well you can pay attention

November 24, 2015

During a 1959 television appearance, Jack Kerouac was asked how long it took him to write his novel On The Road. His response – three weeks – amazed the interviewer and ignited an enduring myth that the book was composed ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.