Scientists have discovered a neurological origin for absence seizures–a type of seizure characterized by very short periods of lost consciousness in which people appear to stare blankly at nothing. Using a mouse model of childhood epilepsy, a team led by Kazuhiro Yamakawa at the RIKEN Center for Brain Science (CBS) in Japan showed that absence epilepsy can be triggered by impaired communication between two brain regions: the cortex and the striatum.
Epileptic seizures come in several varieties. Most are familiar with tonic-clonic seizures, which are characterized by large convulsions. However, several kinds of childhood epilepsy are characterized absence seizures in which children experience widespread erratic brain activity that leaves them unconscious for a number of seconds, but without any convulsions. Absence seizures are associated with spike-wave discharges (SWDs)–irregular brain activity that can be recorded on electrocorticograms. While some medications are available, a clearer understanding of how these types of seizures begin in the brain will lead to the development of better therapies.