A study by University of California Irvine (UCI) has cited that a large number of neuron "hubs" in the epileptic brain account for the seizures in epilepsy, offering new insight into the development of this severe disorder.
The researchers led by Robert Morgan and Ivan Soltesz with the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology discovered that these hubs, which are a small number of highly connected neurons, are formed in the hippocampus during the transition from a healthy brain to an epileptic one.
It was found that this abundance of connections among these hubs circulate and augment signals so much that they overpower brain networks, resulting in epileptic seizures.
"The structure of the epileptic brain differs substantially from that of a healthy one, and our discovery of this hub network offers insight into how epilepsy may develop. By establishing therapeutic measures that can selectively target these hub cells, we may be able to create a treatment for epilepsy," said Morgan.
For the study, the researchers used a computer model of a moderately injured hippocampus - the brain region involved in many forms of epilepsy - for creating the signalling networks that mimic an epileptic brain, and it was found that one featuring a greater number of neuronal hubs promoted the onset of seizure.
They later compared this model with previous animal model studies of epilepsy, and identified these hubs as the network canals for seizures. According to Soltesz, previous studies revealed the existence of these hubs but failed to define their role.
"This study is a great example of integrating data from biomedical informatics with basic and clinical research to advance the effort to understand and potentially treat disease and disorders like epilepsy," added Soltesz.
At least 50 million worldwide are affected by Epilepsy and it is characterized by the occurrence of spontaneous, unpredictable seizures, which can interfere with daily life, be dangerous, and lead to death of some brain cells. Though, much is known about the abnormal communication of neuronal networks in epilepsy, the basic mechanisms, involving both genetic and acquired elements, are not fully understood.
The study appears in the online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.