New Study on Epilepsy

In unique cases of traumatic head injuries chemicals released by the brain’s immune system’s attempt to repair the injured site may provoke chronic seizures – and that might be good news because it could help to prevent one of the most common forms of adult epilepsy. That’s the report from researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Researchers have focused for decades on neurons as the bad guys in seizures, often described as “electrical storms” in the brain. The new research indicates that micro-glial cells – supportive cells that constitute a major part of the brain’s immune system – may play a major role in seizures. In the brain, glial cells cluster when a severe brain injury – a head injury or an infection – has occurred. As the immune system is activated and attempts to counteract the damage and repair it, these glial cells migrate to the damaged area and release chemicals – cytokines) that profoundly increase the excitability of the neurons they are near. The result appears to be that the neurons in the damaged areas are sufficiently excited to cause seizures.

The study report appears in the July 2009 issue of the journal Brain. It was co-authored by CU-Boulder professors Daniel Barth, Linda Watkins and Steven Maier, CU-Boulder graduate students Krista Rodgers and Alexis Northcuff and Professor mark Hutchinson of the University of Adelaide in Australia.

It is known that acquired epilepsy is one of the few forms that has the potential for being prevented, because known head injuries are often followed by latent (delayed) periods of several months where nothing seems to be happening. If the brain’s initial immunity reaction can be temporarily shut down, the development of acquired epilepsy might be prevented.

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