Neuronal Basis of Impaired Consciousness in Absence Epilepsy Identified by Study

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Imagine being able to slip in and out consciousness hundreds of time per day. You would be awake but not aware during these lapses.

These highly disruptive episodes in children with absence seizures are called absence seizures. During brief staring spells children temporarily lose consciousness. EEG recordings can capture abnormal rhythms, but the neuronal causes of absence seizures have never been identified.

Yale researchers identified the neuronal cause of this condition using a genetic model called Genetic Absence Ecclesia Rats (GAERS). The findings were published in Nature Communications on January 10.

Hal Blumenfeld, MD Ph.D. is the Mark Loughridge & Michele Williams Professor of neurology at Yale School of Medicine. He also teaches neuroscience and neurosurgery. Next, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to map brain activity in rats during seizures. We recorded the electrical signals of the brain with EEG, and the electrical signals from single neurons using silicon multi-contact probes.”

Cian McCafferty Ph.D. led the experiments. He was at that time a Yale postdoctoral researcher and is currently a University College Cork lecturer and principal scientist. The team found that the rat’s responses to external stimuli were similar to those of children suffering from absence epilepsy. They also observed four types of neuronal activation during seizures.

Blumenfeld explained that “most neurons showed sustained declines in activity when seizures occurred, explaining the reduced brain function and impaired consciousness observed during absence seizures both in rats and in children.” However, some neurons showed sustained increase during seizures, while others showed only transient increases.

The definition of four types of neuronal activities could lead to a more tailored treatment for children suffering from absence epilepsy. This would allow them to target a specific type of neuron while causing less side effects.

Blumenfeld emphasized that the recordings of electrical signals in the brain from this study can help epilepsy specialists treat patients and prevent seizures before they begin.

Blumenfeld’s team hopes that after completing this groundbreaking study using a rat-model, children who have their lives disrupted due to loss of consciousness in absence epilepsy seizure will be able regain a feeling of normality and resume the activities they love.

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