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03-11-2014 | Link seen between seizures and migraines

03 November 2014
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Seizures and migraines have always been considered separate physiological events in the brain, but now a team of engineers and neuroscientists looking at the brain from a physics viewpoint discovered a link between these and related phenomena.

Scientists believed these two brain events were separate phenomena because they outwardly affect people very differently. Seizures are marked by electrical hyperactivity, but migraine auras -- based on an underlying process called spreading depression -- are marked by a silencing of electrical activity in part of the brain. Also, seizures spread rapidly, while migraines propagate slowly.

"We know that some people get both seizures and migraines," said Schiff. "Certainly, the same brain cells produce these different events and we now have increasing numbers of examples of where single gene mutations can produce the presence of both seizure and migraines in the same patients and families. So, in retrospect, the link was obvious -- but we did not understand it."

What the researchers found was completely unexpected. It appeared that decades of observations of different phenomena in the brain could share a common underlying link.

"We have found within a single model of the biophysics of neuronal membranes that we can account for a broad range of experimental observations, from spikes to seizures and spreading depression," the researchers report in a recent issue of the Journal of Neuroscience. "We are particularly struck by the apparent unification possible between the dynamics of seizures and spreading depression."

While the initial intent was to better model the biophysics of the brain, the connection and unification of seizures and spreading depression was an emergent property of that model, according to Schiff.

"We are not only interested in controlling seizures or migraines after they begin, but we are keen to seek ways to stabilize the brain in normal operating regimes and prevent such phenomena from occurring in the first place," said Schiff. "This type of unification framework demonstrates that we can now begin to have a much more fundamental understanding of how normal and pathological brain activities relate to each other. We and our colleagues have a lot on our plate to start exploring over the coming years as we build on this finding."

The National Institutes of Health and the Mathematical Biosciences Institute of the National Science Foundation supported this work. More>>>>>

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