Originally published in the Journal of Neuroscience.
Researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have uncovered how problems in cortical microcircuits in the brain can trigger epileptic seizures. The researchers say that targeting the problem could lead to new treatments for a devastating form of the disease.
UVA epilepsy researchers Eric R. Wengert, PhD, and Manoj K. Patel, PhD, and their team determined that a particular type of brain cell called somatostatin interneurons can cause seizures when they go haywire. These interneurons are typically thought to function as a built-in brake system to safeguard against excessive activity in the brain and prevent seizures, but Wengert and colleagues found that, when dysfunctional, somatostatin interneurons actually drive excessive brain activity and seizures.
These malfunctions are triggered by mutations in a particular gene known to cause a rare epilepsy syndrome in human patients. These mutations are not inherited from the child’s parents but instead occur shortly after conception.
“Identifying the particular nerve cells that contribute to seizures is important because it helps direct the ways researchers go about developing novel therapies,” said Patel, of UVA’s Department of Anesthesiology. “Based on this research, we now have a new cellular target to try to restore balance to the brain and prevent seizures.”