Through studies in animals, the researchers learned more about the possible brain pathways involved in absence, or petit mal, seizures and tested a drug that revealed a potential new target for blocking seizures before they spread.
"Many current therapies act on the entire nervous system and can have such side effects as sleep disruptions, dizziness and increased risk of developmental side effects," said Georgia Alexander, who with Dwayne Godwin, Ph.D., co-authored the new study. "Because this treatment blocks the pathway that may cause the spread of seizures, it could be more effective and have fewer side effects."
Absence seizures, which are most common in children between 6 and 12, get their name because during the seizure the child seems to be temporarily unconscious of his or her surroundings. Although they last only a few seconds, the seizures can occur hundreds of times a day and can dramatically impact learning and development.
Doctors don't know exactly what causes the seizures, but a prevalent theory is that an abnormal electrical discharge originates in the cerebral cortex, the part of the brain that controls thinking and feeling, and travels to the thalamus, a part of the brain that controls consciousness and certain brain rhythms. The abnormal rhythmic discharges that result may then spread to other parts of the brain. Other types of seizures may also spread this way, including Lennox-Gastaut seizures, a severe form of childhood epilepsy that is often resistant to treatment.
"We know that the cortex communicates with the thalamus continuously, and current theories suggest that when the 'conversatio
Contact: Shannon Koontz
Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center