October 27, 2021

Disordered Brain Activity in Rolandic Epilepsy can be Influenced by Brief Sounds During Sleep

Article published in MedicalExpress.com, originally published in Universitaet Tübingen

Rolandic epilepsy is a common form of epilepsy in children which occurs primarily during sleep. Short sounds played during sleep can partially suppress the neuronal discharges characteristic of epilepsy. That’s according to a research team from the University of Tübingen and Tübingen University Hospitals. The team is headed by Dr. Hong-Viet Ngo and Professor Jan Born from the Institute of Medical Psychology and Behavioral Neurobiology. Their findings could form the basis for future research into treatment of this form of epilepsy.

In the study, the research team non-invasively recorded the electrical brain activity of seven children suffering from Rolandic epilepsy and seven healthy control subjects of the same age, in electroencephalograms (EEG) during sleep. “Our work confirms earlier findings that there are differences in the child patients’ brain activity during sleep compared to healthy children,” says the first author of the study, Dr. Jens Klinzing of Born’s research group. “This particularly affects what is known as “sleep spindles,” a pattern of activity important for processing memories during sleep.” In children with the disease, the epileptic discharges—each recorded as a spike in the curve on the EEG—were also measured during sleep and during quiet periods of wakefulness. The rate and strength of these discharges are thought to determine how pronounced the abnormalities in the cognitive domains are.

The spikes likely originate at the connections between the diencephalon and the cerebral cortex; this gave the researchers the idea to conduct experiments with sound during sleep. “The connections between the diencephalon and cerebral cortex are involved in the origin of both spikes and sleep spindles,” Klinzing says. “It was known from previous studies that sleep spindles can be stimulated by sounds.” The researchers therefore suspected that the epileptic discharges could also be influenced in this way. In fact, it turned out that the softly played sounds reduced both the spike frequency and the intensity of the following spikes in the children suffering from Rolandic epilepsy.

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