How does stimulation of the senses affect the way epileptic seizures spread across the brain?
Amount: £147,758 Duration: 24 months
Dr Jason Berwick
University of Sheffield
Why is this research needed?
Epileptic seizures can start in a small part of the brain before quickly spreading to others, but very little is known about how or why this happens. Finding exactly how and where seizures spread will lead to the development of new anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs), meaning that people who don’t respond to current drugs will have a chance of treatment. Studying the way in which seizures spread is also important to understanding how a person can feel and act during a seizure.
What are the aims?
In a previous study, Dr Berwick and his colleagues discovered that stimulating the whiskers of rodents caused seizures that had been induced in particular areas of the brain to spread more easily than in rodents that did not receive this stimulation. In light of this finding, they believe that stimulation of the senses ‘weakens’ certain parts of the brain so that they ‘succumb’ to seizure activity and allow them to spread.The group plans to investigate how this happens.
"“This research will investigate the mechanisms by which seizures spread across the brain. If we can understand how the seizures spread we will be in a far better position to develop novel treatments to reduce, or even prevent, the spread of seizure activity.”Dr Jason Berwick
How will the research be carried out?
Continuing their work with rodents, the team will use a range of methods to measure changes in brain cell behaviour and in the way in which they are fed by blood during the spread of seizures. By carrying out these measurements in different conditions (exposing the models to different stimuli), they hope to build up a picture of how neurons are recruited to seizure activity.
What difference will it make?
This work in animals will increase our understanding of how and when seizures spread across the brain. In the longer term (approximately 5-10 years) the findings can hopefully be investigated in humans and, if applicable, these will help neurologists to more accurately pinpoint where seizures begin using techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Not only will this improve existing treatments such as epilepsy surgery, but it will potentially highlight new targets for the development of novel AEDs.