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30-7-2009 | Link found between Epilepsy and Alzheimer's

30 July 2009
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Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia in Ireland, accounting for 50-60% of all cases. It is a progressive neurological condition characterised by the build up of certain proteins (called plaques) between the neurons in the brain that damage and destroy the nerve cells. This can make it more and more difficult to remember, reason and use language. The risk of developing Alzheimer's disease increases with age but there is currently no known cause or cure for the disease.

Approximately one third of people with Alzheimer's disease also experience seizures. The reason for this increased seizure susceptibility has never been established, but news research may offer some clues.

An international team of researchers, led by scientists at Aberdeen University in Scotland have discovered that plaque from a protein called Beta amyloid accumulates in clumps in the brains of people suffering from Alzheimer's. In a healthy brain, Beta amyloid particles are broken down but in people with Alzheimer's disease, they accumulate. The scientists believe these clumps of proteins are making nerve cells too sensitive, causing the cells lose their ability to communicate with other nerve cells, which in turn makes Alzheimer's patients more susceptible to seizures.

In forming their conclusions, the researchers bred animal models to develop Beta amyloid plaques. When Alzheimer's disease became apparent in these models, the scientists carried out EEG tests on both them and a group of 'normal' controls. 65% of the Alzheimer's disease group experienced seizures. Of these, 46% had multiple seizures and 38% had a generalised seizure. Seizures were not seen in any of the control group.

Professor Tibor Harkany, the Aberdeen neurobiologist who led the research, said that the findings could lead to a rethink of the type of drugs that are given to patients with Alzheimer's disease and could lead to a search for drugs that treat both Alzheimer's and epilepsy at the same time.

The study was recently published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

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