Research sheds new light on epilepsy

November 30, 2009

Pioneering research using human brain tissue removed from people suffering from epilepsy has opened the door to new treatments for the disease.

Scientists at Newcastle University have for the first time been able to record spontaneous epileptic activity in that has been removed from patients undergoing neurosurgery.

Led by Newcastle University's Dr Mark Cunningham, the research has revealed that a particular type of brain wave pattern associated with is caused by electrical connections between nerve cells in the brain - rather than chemical ones. This means the traditional drugs are useless to them.

Published today in the (PNAS), Dr Cunningham said the findings marked a huge step forward in our understanding of a disease which affects an estimated 45 million people worldwide.

"Until now we have only been able to mimic epilepsy using experimental animal models but this can never give you a true picture of what is actually going on inside the human brain in epilepsy," explained Dr Cunningham who is based in Newcastle University's Institute of Neuroscience.

"Our findings help us to understand what is going wrong and are an important step towards finding new epilepsy treatments in the future."

The first line of treatment for patients with epilepsy uses anti-epileptic drugs to control seizures.

However, in almost 30 per cent of patients the drugs don't work. In this case, one course of action available to them is a neurosurgical procedure in which the brain tissue responsible for the epilepsy is removed from the patient.

Working in collaboration with the Epilepsy Surgery Group at Newcastle General Hospital and IBM Watson Research Centre in New York, the team - with permission from the patients - have taken this epileptic tissue into the lab and 'fooled' it into thinking it is still part of the living brain.

They have then been able to record from individual neurons and also networks of neurons.

Comparing this with normal brain tissue activity they managed to record an underlying 'noise' - a particular type of brain wave, or oscillation, which occurs in the intact epileptic human brain and which scientists believe is a precursor to an epileptic seizure.

Using a combination of experimental techniques, the team have shown that rather than being controlled by chemical signals which most conventional anti-epileptic drugs target, this oscillation relies on direct electrical connections.

"This may explain why the traditional drugs that target chemical connections don't work for patients with this kind of epilepsy," explains Dr Cunningham, who conducted the research with his colleague Professor Miles Whittington.

"These findings have massively increased our understanding of epilepsy and offer real hope in terms of finding new ways of tackling the disease.

"The next step is to understand what it is that triggers the transition between the underlying epileptic state of the cells and the fast oscillations that are responsible for causing a seizure."

Source: Newcastle University

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Female mouse embryos actively remove male reproductive systems

August 17, 2017
A protein called COUP-TFII determines whether a mouse embryo develops a male reproductive tract, according to researchers at the National Institutes of Health and their colleagues at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston. The ...

New Pathology Atlas maps genes in cancer to accelerate progress in personalized medicine

August 17, 2017
A new Pathology Atlas is launched today with an analysis of all human genes in all major cancers showing the consequence of their corresponding protein levels for overall patient survival. The difference in expression patterns ...

Two-step process leads to cell immortalization and cancer

August 17, 2017
A mutation that helps make cells immortal is critical to the development of a tumor, but new research at the University of California, Berkeley suggests that becoming immortal is a more complicated process than originally ...

New technique overcomes genetic cause of infertility

August 17, 2017
Scientists have created healthy offspring from genetically infertile male mice, offering a potential new approach to tackling a common genetic cause of human infertility.

Inhibiting a protein found to reduce progression of Alzheimer's and ALS in mice

August 17, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—A team of researchers with Genetech Inc. and universities in Hamburg and San Francisco has found that inhibiting the creation of a protein leads to a reduction in the progression of Alzheimer's disease ...

Are stem cells the link between bacteria and cancer?

August 17, 2017
Gastric carcinoma is one of the most common causes of cancer-related deaths, primarily because most patients present at an advanced stage of the disease. The main cause of this cancer is the bacterium Helicobacter pylori, ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

neiorah
not rated yet Nov 30, 2009
Iagree with the part of the article that talks about a precurser oscillation before the seizure happens because my daughter feels the seizure coming. Sometimes her brain teases her but does not go into a seizure.I am sure it is that "noise". I am not surprised that drugs do not help. My daughter is getting to the point where they make her sick and they do not work. Electoshock therapy has been known to help because it deals with electricity.I would like to know who to talk to for my daughter. Maybe they can help her

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.