Chicago, IL (Scicasts) — Using an innovative technique combining genetic analysis and mathematical modeling with some basic sleuthing, researchers have identified previously un-described micro-lesions in brain tissue from epileptic patients.
The millimeter-sized abnormalities may explain why areas of the brain that appear normal can produce severe seizures in many children and adults with epilepsy.
The findings, by researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine, Wayne State University and Montana State University, are reported in the journal Brain.
Epilepsy affects about 1 percent of people worldwide. Its hallmark is unpredictable seizures that occur when groups of neurons in the brain abnormally fire in unison. Sometimes epilepsy can be traced back to visible abnormalities in the brain where seizures start, but in many cases, there are no clear abnormalities or scaring that would account for the epileptic activity.
“Understanding what is wrong in human brain tissues that produce seizures is critical for the development of new treatments because roughly one third of patients with epilepsy don’t respond to our currently available medications,” said Dr. Jeffrey Loeb, professor and head of neurology and rehabilitation in the UIC College of Medicine and corresponding author on the study. “Knowing these micro-lesions exist is as huge step forward in our understanding of human epilepsy and present new targets for treating this disease.”
Loeb and colleagues searched for cellular changes associated with epilepsy by analyzing thousands genes in tissues from 15 patients who underwent surgery to treat their epilepsy. They used a mathematical modeling technique called cluster analysis to sort through huge amounts of genetic data.
Using the model, they were able to predict and then confirm the presence of tiny regions of cellular abnormalities – the micro-lesions – in human brain tissue with high levels of epileptic electrical activity, or ‘high-spiking’ areas where seizures begin.