U.Va. Researchers Discover Structural and Functional Changes in the Brain That Explain the Development of Epileptic Seizures

October 19, 2006

Oct. 19, 2006 -- Researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have identified changes in the brains of rats that contribute to the development of certain types of epileptic seizures.

"We and others have always believed that there are critical changes in the brain that disturb normal activity patterns and provide a foundation for epilepsy," says Kevin Lee, Ph.D., Chairman of the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Virginia. "Our research group has identified key events that serve as precursors to seizure development in brains with specific malformations. Disturbances in the inhibitory control of brain activity were identified and these events represent logical targets for new treatments to prevent seizures from occurring."

The work of the UVA group, including Lee, Associate Professor of Neuroscience Jaideep Kapur, M.D., Ph.D., Stacey Trotter, Ph.D., and Matthew Anzivino will be published in the October 10th edition of the Journal of Neuroscience.

An estimated 50 million people worldwide suffer from epilepsy at any given time. The figures can change, because patients who had previously suffered epileptic events can see their symptoms decrease or increase over time.

Epilepsy is caused when the normal electrical activity in the brain is disrupted. Normal brain activity is a series of electrical impulses, which are tightly controlled by systems in the brain. During a seizure, these systems are not able to regulate the electrical impulses properly. This causes abnormal discharges of electrical impulses, which can spread to neighboring cells. When these abnormal discharges happen, the patient experiences a seizure. When a person has at least two seizures, this can be classified as epilepsy.

Epilepsy has many different causes, ranging from structural brain defects during brain development to traumatic injury. However, the cause of epilepsy cannot be determined in many patients.

"Often, epilepsy is not established immediately after a developmental error or a head injury. Lee says that by knowing what changes in the brain to look for, it may be possible for doctors to better predict and prevent the development of epileptic seizures.

 "By knowing what structural and functional changes take place prior to seizure development, we can seek to modify these changes and hopefully stop the disease from developing altogether," Lee says.