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New study uses brain activity patterns to predict seizures

11 Jan 2023

• Researchers discover that loss of consciousness during seizures is caused by four types of neurons.
• The research could help predict seizures before they happen.
• Led by researchers at University College Cork and Yale University, the discovery could improve the lives of people with epilepsy.

A new study has found a pattern of brain activity that occurs before a seizure happens.

The discovery could lead to the development of an early warning technology to detect and predict seizures.

The study, led by Dr Cian McCafferty at University College Cork and Dr Hal Blumenfeld at Yale University, is published in Nature Communications, the world's leading multidisciplinary science journal.

The researchers found that that neurons consistently fall into one of four functional groups during absence seizures, suggesting they are playing different roles in the initiation and persistence of seizures. It was previously thought that all neurons in a brain area had similar activity patterns during a seizure, giving no obvious target for therapeutic interventions. The four distinct patterns of activity discovered in this study suggest that loss of consciousness in seizure may be caused by specific subsets of neurons, which could be targeted pharmaceutically to reverse this loss.

This study also demonstrated the changes which took place before a seizure was initiated, with electrophysiological changes noted between 40 to 60 seconds before a seizure.

Dr Cian McCafferty, study lead and Lecturer in the Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience UCC, said: “We wanted to find out why people lose consciousness when they have epileptic seizures. Absence seizures, also called petit mal, are seizures defined by a loss of consciousness so they are the optimal way to research this. Our study found that some neurons might be more important than others in making a seizure happen. We also found that gradual changes in electrical activity in the brain start up to minute before a seizure.”

“For people with epilepsy, not knowing when their next seizure will occur is cited as one of the most difficult parts of living with the disease. We hope that our research will be a significant step towards the development of an early warning system so we can ensure people’s safety or even avert the seizure before it happens,” Dr McCafferty concluded.

Epilepsy is a chronic noncommunicable disease of the brain that affects around 40,000 people in Ireland and 50 million people worldwide.

Professor John Cryan, Vice President for Research & Innovation UCC, said: “Congratulations to Dr McCafferty and colleagues on this impactful and translationally relevant study which offers promising results for the development of future therapeutic strategies for epilepsy treatment, which could transform the lives of people living with the neurological disorder and their families.”

The study was funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders & Stroke (NINDS).

University College Cork

Coláiste na hOllscoile Corcaigh

College Road, Cork T12 K8AF

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