This month Epilepsy Research News features findings by former CURE Epilepsy Grantee Dr. Juliet Knowles and her colleagues showing that the brains of rodents with seizures developed changes and in effect “learned” to have epilepsy. Next, we report on a study using a zebrafish model of epilepsy to investigate which type of cells in the brain contribute to seizures.
We also feature study findings that could guide the development of better therapeutic strategies for Dravet syndrome, a severe form of childhood epilepsy, by pinpointing a key cell type in the brain.
The final two studies featured below find that people with epilepsy live 10-12 years less than those who do not have the condition. They also highlight that people with epilepsy associated with head injuries, especially the type not well controlled by medication, are more likely to have other health conditions like depression that may result in a lower quality of life.
Summaries of these research discoveries can be found below.
The Brain “Learns” How to Have Seizures: A new study featuring the work of former CURE Epilepsy Grantee Dr. Juliet Knowles and colleagues have found that laboratory rodents that have seizures similar to those commonly seen in people with epilepsy developed changes in the brain circuitry that advanced their epilepsy. These changes in brain circuitry were driven by a process that also plays a role in learning, memory, and attention. The study is the first to report that a key feature of the brain’s ability to change and adapt, known as activity-dependent myelination, can contribute to seizures. Blocking this process reduced the number of seizures in the animals. Dr. Knowles is now investigating whether these findings hold true in people.
Pinpointing Seizure Origin: New evidence from a zebrafish model of epilepsy may help shed light on the cells in the brain from which seizures originate and then spread to other areas. In the study, the researchers tracked the activity of cells throughout the brains of larval zebrafish during seizures. The researchers showed that the seizures originated from an excess of “excitatory” cell activity compared to “inhibitory” cell activity in relatively confined regions of the brain and only spread to other areas when they overcame strong inhibitory activity in the surrounding regions. The team plans to confirm their findings by looking across multiple brain regions in a mouse model.
Investigating Treatment for Epilepsy and Autism: A group of researchers reports new findings focused on a protein called tau, that could guide therapeutic strategies for Dravet syndrome, a severe childhood epilepsy that is often associated with autism and higher rates of Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP). The researchers pinpoint the key cell type in the brain in which tau levels must be reduced to decrease seizures, autism-like behaviors, and SUDEP. They also show that lowering tau is effective in mice when the intervention is delayed until after their birth. The researchers state that their findings provide new insights into the cellular mechanisms by which tau reduction prevents brain dysfunction associated with Dravet syndrome.
Epilepsy and Mortality: On average, people with epilepsy live 10-12 years less than those who do not have the condition, according to a recent research study using the Danish healthcare register that follows almost six million individuals, including 130,000 people with epilepsy. The potential for a shorter lifespan is particularly pronounced among people who have epilepsy and a mental health disorder. Reduced life expectancy for people with epilepsy was related to a wide range of causes including cardiovascular diseases, psychiatric disorders, alcohol-related conditions, accidents, and suicide. The researchers state that the results provide important information to all healthcare professionals and could be used to develop measures to reduce the mortality gap currently seen in people with epilepsy.
Epilepsy and Quality of Life: A new study suggests that people with epilepsy that is associated with head injury (a type of epilepsy called post-traumatic epilepsy or PTE), especially when seizures are not well controlled by medication, are more likely to have other health conditions like depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and headache which may result in a lower quality of life. The study examined 529 military veterans with epilepsy and found that 45% of those with PTE had drug-resistant epilepsy, compared to 33% of those with epilepsy not associated with a head injury. Those with drug-resistant epilepsy reported the lowest quality of life. The study’s authors note that understanding drug-resistant epilepsy and finding more effective interventions may lead to ways to help people live longer, more satisfying lives.