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Neuro rehab research

Light therapy could stop epileptic seizures – study

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The researchers were able to activate the brains of mice using light rather than an electrical current

Deep brain stimulation could prevent epileptic seizures, a new study has found.

Research in mice has revealed that low-frequency stimulation of specific brain areas, using light rather than electric current, could completely stop epileptic activity.

Traditionally, epileptic activity originating from one or more diseased brain regions in the temporal lobe is difficult to contain.

Many patients with temporal lobe epilepsy often do not respond to treatment with anti-epileptic drugs, and the affected brain areas must therefore be surgically removed – although this only gives freedom from seizures to around a third of patients.

Now, this new light-based therapeutic approach, investigated by scientists at the University of Freiburg, could yield a significant breakthrough for patients.

“As soon as we stimulated the brain region with a frequency of one hertz, the epileptic seizures disappeared. This effect was stable over several weeks,” says Professor Carola Haas, head of the research group at the department of neurosurgery at the University of Freiburg.

In the study, habituation, which can occur with drug therapy, did not take place. The brain region was stimulated for one hour daily.

In temporal lobe epilepsy, the hippocampus is often pathologically altered and usually represents the so-called focus of epileptic activity.

Previous studies have used precise genetic labelling techniques to map the fibre system and its synaptic contacts between the temporal lobe and hippocampus, which are typically preserved in temporal lobe epilepsy.

The researchers used this fibre system to manipulate hippocampal activity in a specific and temporally precise manner using light-dependent proteins.

Measuring brain waves showed that rhythmic activation of the diseased hippocampus at a low frequency of one hertz suppressed epileptic activity and prevented it from spreading.

Professor Haas and her team demonstrated that the anti-epileptic effect is largely due to the repeated activation of surviving granule cells in the seizure focus.

Single cell studies confirmed the assumption that the granule cells are less excitable due to the stimulation, making the epileptic seizure less likely to spread.

“It’s also possible that we have a widespread network effect because the stimulation can spread through the hippocampal circuitry,” Professor Haas adds.

In the future, the team, along with the medical physics department at the Medical Center – University of Freiburg, have plans to use magnetic resonance imaging to observe the entire brain during stimulation.

This technique could be used to identify additional brain regions that are affected by the stimulation. Corresponding findings on these could provide information on how they are connected and what further consequences stimulation has.

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