Chronic seizures caused by traumatic head injuries may result from chemicals released by the brain's immune system attempting to repair the injured site, according to a study led by the University of Colorado at Boulder.
The findings could help prevent one of the most common forms of adult epilepsy, called acquired epilepsy, which is often found in people who have suffered a brain injury or infection, according to CU-Boulder psychology and neuroscience Professor Daniel Barth, the study's chief author.
For decades researchers have focused on neurons as the culprits in seizures, which can be characterized as debilitating "electrical storms" in the brain.
However, recent research has shown that micro-glial cells may play a major role in seizures. Researchers have found that glial cells, which are supportive cells that also constitute a major part of the brain's immune system, cluster within areas in the brain when a severe brain injury has occurred.
"When there has been serious damage to the brain, such as a head injury or infection, the immune system is activated and tries to counteract the damage and repair it," Barth said. "These glial cells migrate to the damaged area and release chemicals called cytokines that, unfortunately, also profoundly increase the excitability of the neurons that they are near.
"In our new study, we showed for the first time that glial cells moving in and secreting these cytokines cause the neurons in the area to become excitable enough to cause seizures."
The results of the study appear in the July issue of the journal Brain. Barth co-authored the paper with CU-Boulder professors of psychology and neuroscience Linda Watkins and Steven Maier, CU-Boulder graduate students Krista Rodgers and Alexis Northcutt and Professor Mark Hutchinson of the University of Adelaide in Australia. The National Institutes of Health funded the study.
Acquired epilepsy is one of the few
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University of Colorado at Boulder