Epilepsy Study Gives Insight to Mood Disorders
Brain Cell Production May Be the Key, Study Shows
Jan. 5, 2005 -- New solutions for learning and mood disorders caused by
epilepsy may be a step closer to reality. Producing more brain cells might
help, latest research shows.
Brain injury caused by an acute seizure can prompt the production of new
cells, which researchers say is most likely the result of growth factors
released from injured or dead brain cells. What remains unclear are the effects
of long-term seizure disorder or epilepsy on brain cell development. Addressing
these issues, say researchers, is important since both human and animal studies
have shown that learning and memory function are affected by epilepsy.
In lab tests, rats with the condition of epilepsy produced 64%-81% fewer new
cells in the brain's hippocampus region. The hippocampus region of the brain
oversees learning, memory, and mood.
Coaxing the brain into making up for the shortage could make a difference.
"In the future, we could theoretically treat chronically epileptic patients
with stem cell factors that induce new neuron production and see if it
alleviates their learning and memory problems and depression," says Duke
University's Ashok Shetty, PhD, in a news release.
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Shetty, a research professor of neurosurgery, worked on the study with Duke
colleagues and experts from Durham VA Medical Center in North Carolina. Their
report appears in the December issue of the journal Neurobiology of
Exercise, enriched environments, and antidepressants could also help.
"All of these treatments are known to considerably increase adult brain
cell production [neurogenesis] in the hippocampus," says Shetty.
Boosting brain cell production might even curb seizure activity. In Shetty's
study, rats producing fewer new brain cells were more likely to have
However, it's not just a matter of pumping out more brain cells. There
appears to be a fine line between overdoing it and falling short.
Sudden seizures can trigger a fast and furious spurt in brain cell
production, the study shows. But that wasn't good news.
The rats with sudden seizures couldn't handle all those new brain cells at
once. It was too much, too soon. As a result, the new brain cells weren't
effectively used. In fact, the spurt just made matters worse.
Finding the best solutions will take more work. Meanwhile, Shetty sees
promise in the process. "Understanding the brain's long-term response to
epileptic injury will enhance our ability to treat the disease," he says.
He notes that the decline in brain cells may be to blame for the decrease in
memory and learning observed in epilepsy.