A recent study published in Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience and supported by the Russian Science Foundation strived to look into the main factors that were leading to seizures. Scientists from Russia looked into changes that were occurring in the temporal lobe cortex of rat brains as they were undergoing prolonged epileptic seizures. While the signals of the neurons can be quite complex, scientists found that it was still possible to create a mathematical model to find the “key factor” that leads to seizures.
How Can This Help?
A person who suffers from epilepsy undergoes a seizure, most commonly meaning convulsing. Epistatus is a very dangerous condition defined as seizures following one another after a short period of time. Scientists understand that this can happen when the neurons in the brain become too excited. However, what scientists do not understand is just what causes the excitation in the neurons in the first place.
The new study had researchers investigating the signaling processes that occurred in the “cortex of the temporal lobe before and after the seizures.” They chose this area because epilepsy associated with this part of the brain is quite common. To test for the 'key factor,' researchers used the rat's brain and put it into a pro-epileptic solution. Similar convulsions happen in the brain tissue of a rat as does in a person. Researchers analyzed the currents occurring in the brain cells that were “stimulated by electricity before and after a 15-minute epistatus.”
The neurons send one another signals that can be excitatory or inhibitory, depending upon the type of target receptor on the cell membrane. The difficulty in this type of research is several signals are acting on the neuron at the same time, which makes it more complicated in determining exactly which of these signals is the contributing factor.
During the study, scientists examined the effect that amino acids would have on the receptors of all major types – AMPA, NMDA, and GABA. They discovered that “each of the components of the signal after epileptic electrical discharges becomes stronger and longer.” They were curious as to whether this could happen as a result of “affecting only one amplified signal on the remaining paths.” In order to determine if this were the case, the researchers created a mathematical model that showed the system of interacting nerve cells. Findings showed “only the conductivity of the AMPA receptors in the network of neurons significantly changes, leading to stronger excitation of all neurons and stronger synaptic signals recorded on one nerve cell.”
Additional studies have shown that this is the “mechanism of synaptic plasticity with the incorporation of new calcium permeable AMPA receptors into the cell membranes.” Most of the time, and under normal conditions, this type of process that happens in the brain is associated with learning and memory. However, there are certain pathological conditions that can lead to “excitability increase up to tens of minutes.” Meaning, that the risk of a new convulsive discharge is going to increase, which can lead to pathology fixation. The goal of the study was to better understand how embedding calcium permeable AMPA receptors “leads to the consolidation of seizure activity.” Hopefully, this will lead to the development of new antiepileptic drugs.
Epilepsy continues to be a major problem and it is going to take a substantial amount of additional research to make more headway into this condition. In the future, better detection, understanding and treatment options will hopefully help patients to lead happier and healthier lives.