Study points to new cell culprit for epilepsy
In the past, research on epilepsy has focused on nerve cells, or neurons. But new research points to a type of brain cell called astrocyte cells as the potential trigger for over-activity in the brain which can lead to seizures.
When an epileptic seizure occurs, tests reveal excessive signalling between neurons - cells involved in transmitting electrical messages in the body. Neurons are regulated by a family of cells known as glia to which astrocytes belong.
To find out how these cells were contributing to seizures, scientists studied the star shaped astrocytes in the brains of mice. They found that when the cells swell (which occurs in some brain diseases), the enzyme glutamine synthetase is no longer regulated. Without the regulation of this enzyme, the astrocytes cannot inhibit the activity of neurons, leading to excessive signalling.
Approximately one in 20 people will have an epileptic seizure at some time in their life. Not all seizures are convulsions; some people may go ‘blank' for a few seconds or not know where they are for periods of time. Sudden death from epilepsy is rare, affecting around 0.5% of those diagnosed.
Researchers suggest that their findings on the inability to regulate neurons may relate to other conditions such as Parkinson's disease and various psychiatric disorders.