Epilepsy is a common disease: in Germany alone there are 600,000 people whose nerve cells in the brain occasionally switch from healthy chaos to common mode. The result of the uncontrolled mass discharge of neurons is loss of consciousness and spastic convulsions of the muscles, during which those affected can seriously injure themselves. Yet how this synchronised paroxysmic activity develops at the level of nerve cells is still largely a mystery.
Nerve cells are interlinked via a large number of branching networks through which they communicate with each other. Each neuron has a series of dendrites which receive signals from other neurons at what are known as synapses. The cell 'processes' these incoming signals like a kind of biological microprocessor and transmits as a result electrical pulses via a special projection, the axon, to the dendrites of other neurons. Many epilepsy researchers have up to now assumed that when epilepsy occurs this communication between the cells does not work properly because the transmission of the signals to the synapses is impaired. However, the Bonn researchers in conjunction with their US colleagues and a research team from Marseilles discovered in the case of epileptic rats that the signal processing is not
Contact: Professor Heinz Beck
University of Bonn