A new discovery has been made at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. Researchers have found a link between epileptic seizures and cortical microcircuits in brain tissue. This is an exciting new development in epilepsy research. While further studies are needed, a better understanding of this link could lead to treatment options for those suffering from this debilitating condition.
The researchers believe that certain types of brain cells (somatostatin interneurons) can cause seizures when they malfunction. It is thought that the purpose of the brain cells in question is to limit excess activity in the brain. However, when these brain cells fail to function properly, they may actually cause an increase in activity in the brain, leading to the onset of seizures. The failure of the brain cells to work is due to an abnormal gene that causes a rare type of epilepsy in individuals.
Researchers believe that being able to single out the type of cell that causes the onset of seizures in individuals has enormous possibilities for the treatment of this rare type of epilepsy. By being able to zero in on the smallest of targets, researchers can develop precise interventions that can restore the brain to a normal environment. This could not only treat seizures, but it could potentially prevent their onset altogether, eliminating the lasting and potentially devastating effects seizures can have on an individual.
The research into SCN8A was conducted using mice. The researchers used mutations of SCN8A that were found in two separate individuals. The study helped them to find the neurons responsible for the malfunction in the brain cells. The researchers discovered both SCN8A irregularities caused disturbances that made the neurons in question cease activity. These neurons would be extremely active under ideal circumstances and serve as a braking system for excess activity in the brain. But when they cease to work as intended, they allow for a frenzy of activity that can produce a seizure.
The Effects Seizures Have on Children
As part of a larger investigation into SCN8A epileptic encephalopathy, a rare neurological condition, researchers took a look at somatostatin interneurons and their part in the condition. Children with this debilitating condition suffer repeated seizures that usually don’t respond to medicine.
The seizures associated with SCN8A epileptic encephalopathy can have lasting consequences for the children, who oftentimes are left to deal with cognitive disabilities and underdeveloped motor skills. These cognitive impairments can oftentimes lead to a lifetime of struggles. As the child enters adulthood, the condition can make it difficult for them to obtain gainful employment, leading to an increased reliance on others. This in turn can have a tremendous impact on the individual’s self-esteem, perhaps even leading to depression and other potentially devastating consequences. Individuals with epilepsy are oftentimes plagued with poor self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and mental health disorders. While it is, of course, not a guarantee that the children afflicted with SCN8A will struggle in such a way, finding a way to reduce the odds of it happening is a gigantic leap in the right direction.
A Better Direction
The hope is, now that they have targeted the specific neurons associated with SCN8A epileptic encephalopathy, they can develop new and better ways to repair the neurons in question, leading to a decrease or elimination of seizures. It will also help scientists, doctors, and researchers to have a firmer grasp on the ins and outs of epilepsy. If somatostatin interneurons are responsible for epileptic seizures in general, determining a way to repair them could offer a treatment solution to every individual suffering from epilepsy.