Researchers have found that when there are increased levels of serotonin in the brain, it has the potential to reduce the risk of breathing pauses in people who suffer from epilepsy. These breathing pauses have the potential to be deadly, so these findings, published in the September 4, 2019 online issue of Neurology, are exciting.
The study's author, Dr. Samden Lhatoo, is a neurology professor working at the University of Texas McGovern Medical School, which is located in Houston. Serotonin is a hormone that will transmit signals between nerve cells in the brain. The hormone is used as a means to regulate breathing and even to wake from sleep. The researchers wanted to know just what type of role the serotonin was able to play at each stage of seizures – before, during, and after.
What Did the Research Find?
When the levels of serotonin are higher after a seizure, they are associated with less breathing dysfunction. The researchers stated that they were not able to “make any links between serotonin levels and a risk of SUDEP (sudden unexplained death in epilepsy).” They do believe that the research they are doing can provide some information in this area though, as SUDEP has been linked to breathing problems after someone has undergone “generalized convulsive seizures.”
The study they conducted featured 49 patients. The patients all suffered from epilepsy that was difficult to treat. The average age of the patients who were involved in the study was 42. The study took place while patients were in an epilepsy monitoring unit. The researchers assessed the electrical activity in the brain and the heart, as well as blood flow changes, and blood-oxygen levels during seizures.
The researchers also needed to measure serotonin levels. They did this by taking blood from the patients within 10 minutes after they had undergone a seizure, as well as taking another sample about 12 hours after the seizure.
They discovered that 35% of the patients would stop breathing temporarily during the seizures and 30% of the patients stopped breathing temporarily after the seizure. The researchers also found that the serotonin levels were “higher than before in patients who did not temporarily stop breathing either during or after the event.” The levels of serotonin were not much higher before or after the seizure in patients who did stop breathing temporarily.
How Could the Results Help?
The results have led them to believe that there is potentially a link between the levels of serotonin and breathing in epilepsy during and after the seizure takes place. This has led them to believe that there is a possibility that new therapies might be created in the future that could help to reduce incidents of sudden unexplained death in epilepsy. While SUDEP might be rare, there are still a number of individuals who pass away each year without there being any definitive reasons. The potential to stop some of these deaths from occurring is very exciting news for all seizure sufferers.
Of course, the researchers do stress that this is just the beginning of research in this field. They had a relatively small number of patients in the study and will need to continue research to make sure they can confirm the findings. The researchers also stressed that having too much serotonin can be a problem, as well. They have cautioned people away from trying to find methods to increase their serotonin levels to replicate the results from the study. There is a potential that it could be dangerous. Instead, let the research continue and let the therapies develop over the course of the next several years.