December 10, 2020

A Role for the Slow Oscillations of the Neocortex in Epileptic Spasm Generation

Featuring the work of CURE Epilepsy grantee Dr. John Swann

Summary, originally published in Eurekalert

Epileptic spasms are a type of brief seizures that are the hallmark of catastrophic seizure disorders, which are characterized by severe cognitive and motor deficits. Researchers from Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital now provide evidence that epileptic spasms originate from the pyramidal cells in the deep layers of the neocortex. Further, they uncovered a novel neurophysiological phenomenon that explains how cortical neurons generate spasms. This is also the first study to reveal a hitherto unknown relationship between a normal brain state, like sleep, and spasms. The study was recently published in the Annals of Neurology.

An English physician first described epileptic spasms in the mid-1800s. Since then, neuroscientists have tried to understand the cellular and mechanistic origins of epileptic spasms.

“We are excited to finally have some fundamental insights into where and how spasms originate in the brain,” lead author, Dr. John Swann, who is a professor at Baylor College of Medicine, director of the Cain Foundation Laboratories for Pediatric Neurology, and co-director of the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute at Texas Children’s, said. “Our findings also reveal a previously unappreciated interplay between wake/sleep brain states and how spasms are generated which opens up new avenues for the development of desperately-needed interventional therapies.”

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