According to a study published on January 22, 2013 in Nature Communications, optogenetic modulation of neurons can stop epileptic seizures on a moment-to-moment basis. The findings suggest an approach for the development of treatments for epilepsy that are less disruptive than those currently available.
Approximately 60,000 people in Connecticut have epilepsy (nearly 3 million Americans are affected by epilepsy). Epilepsy is a medical condition that produces seizures. Seizures happen when clusters of nerve cells (neurons) in the brain signal abnormally. Instead of discharging electrical energy in a controlled manner, the brain cells keep firing. This results in a surge of energy through the brain which may cause unconsciousness and contractions of the muscles.
In temporal lobe epilepsy (the most common type of epilepsy in adults), early seizure activity appears in a region of the brain and may or may not progress to involve the entire brain. There are currently no approved on-demand treatments for this type of epilepsy. This recent study developed a new seizure-detection program to identify and rapidly respond to seizures. It uses an animal model of temporal lobe epilepsy that expresses light-sensitive proteins (known as opsins) in different neurons of the brain. In this model, spontaneous temporal lobe seizures can be detected by electroencephalography (EEG) combined with customized computer software. These seizures could be stopped rapidly upon application of light (by inhibition of excitatory principal neurons or activation of certain inhibitory neurons), in a spatially restricted manner.
Although these studies were carried out in an animal model, these results may provide a potential alternative to current therapies (which are not very effective and lack specificity).
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