The study authors examined the genomes of 38 families with members who had the condition. They found a gene variation -- in a gene called ELP4 -- that appeared to be linked to Rolandic epilepsy.
The findings were published online Jan. 28 in the European Journal of Human Genetics.
The full meaning of the research remains to be determined, Pal said. "In the future, it could be used as part of a test to predict those who are at risk and those who are not at risk" for developing the condition, he said.
The finding also might provide insights into conditions such as ADHD and speech dyspraxia, a disorder in which a person has delayed speech development because of motor coordination difficulties, according to background information with the study.
For the moment, there's not much doctors could do if they knew a child was at risk of epilepsy, but that could change, Pal said.
Dr. Orrin Devinsky, professor of neurology, neurosurgery and psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine, said the next challenge is to figure out how the genetic variation affects the makeup of the brain.
"More information is great, but we need to convert basic science data into improved clinical care, a big challenge," said Devinsky, who's familiar with the findings of the new study.
Learn more about epilepsy from the Epilepsy Foundation.
SOURCES: Deb Pal, M.D., Ph.D., research scientist, Columbia University, New York City; Orrin Devinsky, M.D., professor of neurology, neurosurgery and psychiatry, New York University School of Medicine, New York City; Jan. 28, 2009, European Journal of Human Genetics, online
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