Epileptic seizures and depression may share a common genetic cause, study suggests

January 10, 2018 by Todd B. Bates, Rutgers University
In people with epilepsy, partial seizures are also known as focal seizures. While focal seizures start in one part of the brain, generalized seizures start in both sides of the brain. Credit: National Institutes of Health

From the time of Hippocrates, physicians have suspected a link between epilepsy and depression. Now, for the first time, scientists at Rutgers University-New Brunswick and Columbia University have found evidence that seizures and mood disorders such as depression may share the same genetic cause in some people with epilepsy, which may lead to better screening and treatment to improve patients' quality of life.

The scientists studied dozens of unusual families with multiple relatives who had epilepsy, and compared the family members' of with that of the U.S. population.

They found an increased incidence of mood disorders in persons who suffer from a type of the condition called focal epilepsy, in which begin in just one part of the brain. But mood disorders were not increased in people with generalized epilepsy, in which seizures start on both sides of the brain.

"Mood disorders such as are under-recognized and undertreated in people with epilepsy," said Gary A. Heiman, the study's senior author and associate professor in the Department of Genetics at Rutgers-New Brunswick. "Clinicians need to screen for mood disorders in people with epilepsy, particularly focal epilepsy, and clinicians should treat the depression in addition to the epilepsy. That will improve patients' quality of life."

The results of the study - published online today in the journal Epilepsia - support the hypothesis that people with , but not , are susceptible to mood disorders such as depression.

"More research is needed to identify specific genes that raise risk for both epilepsy and mood disorders," said Heiman, who works in the School of Arts and Sciences. "It's important to understand the relationship between the two different disorders."

A relationship between epilepsy and mood disorders has been suspected for millennia, Heiman noted. Hippocrates, "the father of medicine," wrote about it around 400 BC: "Melancholics ordinarily become epileptics, and epileptics, melancholics: what determines the preference is the direction the malady takes; if it bears upon the body, epilepsy, if upon the intelligence, melancholy."

Seizures in most people with epilepsy can be controlled by drugs and surgery. The fact remains, however, that epilepsy and mood disorders such as depression affect quality of life and increase disability and healthcare costs. Depression raises the risk for suicidal thoughts and attempts. Moreover, previous studies have shown that people who have both epilepsy and mood disorders tend to have worse seizure outcomes than those without mood disorders.

In the U.S., about 2.3 million adults and more than 450,000 children and adolescents have epilepsy, and anyone can develop the disorder. In 2015, an estimated 16.1 million adults at least 18 years old in the U.S. had at least one in the past year, according to federal figures.

"A number of genes have been found for epilepsy and understanding if these genes also might be causing depression is important," Heiman said. "In particular, more studies should be done to understand the relationship between focal and mood disorders."

Explore further: Anxiety and depression are common in people with epilepsy

More information: Beverly J. Insel et al, Mood disorders in familial epilepsy: A test of shared etiology, Epilepsia (2018). DOI: 10.1111/epi.13985

Related Stories

Anxiety and depression are common in people with epilepsy

May 4, 2017
An analysis of published studies found that in individuals with epilepsy, there is a 20.2 percent prevalence of anxiety disorders and a 22.9 percent prevalence of depression. Investigators also found no differences in the ...

Some psychotic disorders may be induced by drugs designed to combat effects of epilepsy

August 9, 2016
Today Brain publishes a new study indicating that antiepileptic drugs designed to reduce seizures, may also induce psychotic disorders in some patients.

People with epilepsy may gain from common sleep apnea treatment

December 4, 2017
(HealthDay)—It's been used by many people to help ease sleep apnea, but new research suggests the CPAP mask may also help ease seizures in people with epilepsy.

Childhood epilepsy not linked with later psychiatric disorders

September 21, 2015
For decades, experts have been studying potential links between childhood epilepsy and various behavioral and psychiatric conditions and some have hypothesized that that they are part of a larger spectrum of brain disorders ...

People with epilepsy face increased risks of discrimination and other negative life events

September 19, 2016
In a recent analysis, people with epilepsy were seven-fold more likely to have reported experiencing discrimination due to health problems than the general population. This risk was greater than other chronic health problems ...

Treatments available for drug-resistant epilepsy

August 22, 2016
One in 26 people will develop epilepsy – a chronic disease characterized by unpredictable seizures—in their lifetime.

Recommended for you

How your brain remembers what you had for dinner last night

January 17, 2018
Confirming earlier computational models, researchers at University of California San Diego and UC San Diego School of Medicine, with colleagues in Arizona and Louisiana, report that episodic memories are encoded in the hippocampus ...

Recording a thought's fleeting trip through the brain

January 17, 2018
University of California, Berkeley neuroscientists have tracked the progress of a thought through the brain, showing clearly how the prefrontal cortex at the front of the brain coordinates activity to help us act in response ...

Midbrain 'start neurons' control whether we walk or run

January 17, 2018
Locomotion comprises the most fundamental movements we perform. It is a complex sequence from initiating the first step, to stopping when we reach our goal. At the same time, locomotion is executed at different speeds to ...

A 'touching sight': How babies' brains process touch builds foundations for learning

January 16, 2018
Touch is the first of the five senses to develop, yet scientists know far less about the baby's brain response to touch than to, say, the sight of mom's face, or the sound of her voice.

Brain zaps may help curb tics of Tourette syndrome

January 16, 2018
Electric zaps can help rewire the brains of Tourette syndrome patients, effectively reducing their uncontrollable vocal and motor tics, a new study shows.

Researchers identify protein involved in cocaine addiction

January 16, 2018
Mount Sinai researchers have identified a protein produced by the immune system—granulocyte-colony stimulating factor (G-CSF)—that could be responsible for the development of cocaine addiction.

0 comments

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.