When an epileptic seizure strikes, it’s almost always frightening: violent, involuntary muscle contractions, often accompanied by a loss of consciousness.
Epilepsy affects more than 3 million Americans, including an estimated 100,000 Oklahomans. In most cases, the cause is not known. But a study from the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation casts new light on how injuries to brain tissue can cause those seizures to occur and recur.
OMRF scientists Rodger McEver, M.D., and Lijun Xia, M.D., Ph.D., are part of a team of scientists who have discovered that inflammation in brain tissue following a seizure, head trauma or stroke might induce more seizures. The new study appears today in the advance online publication of the journal Nature Medicine, and it may open new avenues for preventing epileptic seizures.
“Inflammation is usually a useful part of the body’s immune reaction,” said McEver, who holds the Eli Lilly Distinguished Chair in Biomedical Research at OMRF. “But in seizures, this research signals that inflammation also may be a factor in a vicious cycle.”
Epilepsy is a chronic neurological condition that produces disturbances in the normal electrical functions of the brain. Those disturbances cause recurrent, uncontrolled seizures.
“When a person suffers a seizure or some other traumatic event in the brain, the body’s natural reaction is to call for help in the form of white blood cells,” said McEver. “What we’ve discovered is that those cells, which typically act as the body’s policemen, actually seem to contribute to the chain of events that lead to future seizures.”
According to McEver, this insight could lead to new ways to treat and prevent epilepsy. “If you could intervene to block the white blood cells from adhering to blood vessels in the brain, this could stop the seizure process,” he said. Future research will examine the effectiveness of using antibodies—specialized proteins produced by the immune system—to block this process.
The research was done in conjunction with scientists at the University of Verona and the University of Insubria in Italy, and at the University of North Carolina, Case Western Reserve University and Stanford University. McEver and Xia’s work was funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
Epilepsy is a chronic neurological condition in which seizures, caused by electrical disturbances in the brain, grip the body uncontrollable. About 3 million Americans and an estimated 100,000 Oklahomans suffer from epilepsy. The cause of the condition could be genetic or a result of injury, infection, exposure to toxic agents or other reasons.
OMRF (omrf.org) is an independent, nonprofit biomedical research institute dedicated to understanding and developing more effective treatments for human disease. Chartered in 1946, its scientists focus on such critical research areas as Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, lupus and cardiovascular disease.