A single switch dictates severity of epileptic seizures, researchers find

April 14, 2014 by Bill Hathaway
A single switch dictates severity of epileptic seizures, Yale researchers find
Credit: Michael S. Helfenbein

A switch in the brain of people with epilepsy dictates whether their seizures will be relatively mild or lead to a dangerous and debilitating loss of consciousness, Yale researchers have found.

The study published April 11 in the journal Neurology showed that there was no gradation of impairment during —subjects were either alert or totally unaware of their surroundings.

The existence of an "all or none" switch for consciousness surprised researchers, who expected to find different levels of awareness among those who experience focal seizures, or those localized to particular brain areas.

"During seizures patients may report a funny, fearful feeling, tingling in their arm or some quirk in their vision but are able to answer all our questions," said Dr. Hal Blumenfeld, professor of neurology, neurobiology, and neurosurgery, and senior author of the study. "At other times—boom—all of a sudden they are in a daze, unable to respond to their environment."

Blumenfeld said previous studies have shown that this switch rests in areas of the brain stem that play a role in waking and in paying attention to your surroundings. The findings suggest that existing drugs that treat narcolepsy or therapies like might help patients with .

"Our goal is to prevent seizures, but in a fifth to a quarter of people have seizures no matter what we do," Blumenfeld said. "For them, therapies that would prevent would greatly improve quality of life."

Explore further: In epileptic seizures, researchers see the neurology of consciousness

Related Stories

Implantable medical device for epilepsy

December 3, 2013

(Medical Xpress)—Physicians at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) Strong Epilepsy Center were involved in the recent approval of a new treatment for epilepsy. The implantable medical device – called the ...

Can epileptic seizures be prevented or predicted?

March 31, 2014

A biomedical engineering professor at the Institute of Biomaterials & Biomedical Engineering (IBBME) and the Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering (ECE), Bardakjian works with a team of neurological ...

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 ...

No cable spaghetti in the brain

November 24, 2015

Our brain is a mysterious machine. Billions of nerve cells are connected such that they store information as efficiently as books are stored in a well-organized library. To this date, many details remain unclear, for instance ...


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.