Neuroscientists make major breakthrough in epilepsy study

Posted: February 9, 2015 at 3:46 pm

Neuroscientists at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland have made a major breakthrough in uncovering why epilepsy occurs.

The research focuses on understanding what controls gene activity in epilepsy and may also help to explain why epileptic states can be so persistent. The study will be published next month in the neurology journal Brain and is the first of its kind.

Epilepsy affects about 37,000 people in Ireland and one of the authors believes the study could potentially offer new targets for reversing the condition.

Given that epilepsy is often associated with altered levels of genes in the brain, the researchers looked for a chemical change to DNA called methylation, which acts as a long-lasting on/off switch for gene activity and thought to be one way that brain cells store biochemical memories.

More than 30,000 gene sites were studied as part of the research project using brain tissue from patients with epilepsy, including many not previously linked to the condition.

The research found in some cases, the more DNA methylation that occurred, the more gene activity was turned off. It also found that certain types of genes are more likely than others to be under this type of control.

Lead author of the study, Suzanne Miller-Delaney, said: It specifically aligns deterioration of parts of the brain with structural changes in patient DNA and gene activity.

The study can help us to understand what is controlling gene activity in epilepsy and why the epileptic state can be so persistent.

David Henshall from the RCSI Department of Physiology and Medical Physics, and the principal investigator of the project, said: This study could potentially offer new targets for reversing epilepsy once established.

The research project was supported by a grant from Epilepsy Ireland, The Health Research Board, and Science Foundation Ireland.

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Neuroscientists make major breakthrough in epilepsy study

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