Positron emission tomography (PET) brain scans may help in planning surgery to cure epilepsy in people.
According to a study presented at the 130th annual meeting of the American Neurological Association in San Diego, researchers from National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke had found that PET imaging with a marker that shows deficits in signaling for the neurotransmitter serotonin is more sensitive than the traditional PET measurement of brain glucose.
When drugs fail to control epilepsy, brain surgery is often the only remaining therapeutic option. However, identifying the correct spot for surgery has traditionally required a separate preliminary -- and inherently risky -- surgical procedure.
Epilepsy is a chronic illness of the brain. In a subset of cases, the seizures always begin the same, identifiable area of the brain, then spread to other areas. Surgery to remove the area where seizures start can be safe and effective.
Both PET and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are under investigation as tools to guide neurosurgeons to areas of the brain where epileptic seizures originate.
Researchers at NINDS have found, in their pilot study, that a marker for serotonin systems was able to identify epilepsy-generating brain areas even in a patient with a normal MRI.
In related studies, the researchers have found that these deficits in serotonin correlate with the likelihood that patients with epilepsy will also suffer from depression.