Autoimmunity: a small but significant and treatable cause of epilepsy

Posted Sep 7 2017 in News from Epilepsy Research UK

What is autoimmune epilepsy?

The immune system is designed to protect the body from attack from outside agents such as bacteria and viruses. However, sometimes things go wrong and autoimmune disease results. In autoimmune disease, “over-excited” specialised immune cells and proteins (including antibodies), whose usual role is to defend the body against infection, instead attack the body itself.

It is believed that some forms of epilepsy may be autoimmune and caused by antibodies that attack different proteins in the brain. This form of epilepsy may not respond fully to standard antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) and might require a different treatment strategy, e.g. immunosuppression, which would reduce the over-activity of the immune system. Knowing at the time of diagnosis whether a person’s epilepsy is linked to autoimmunity would help to ensure they received the right treatment promptly.

A number of antibodies against different cell proteins have already been detected in people with epilepsy, but that does not automatically mean that these antibodies cause epilepsy. There are important questions to ask:

  • Can the antibodies cause seizures themselves or are there other factors involved?
  • Is the appearance of antibodies in the patient’s blood linked to the onset of the seizures, or do they appear later, perhaps as a response to the disease process or to treatment?

ERUK-funded research, in Oxford, has tried to address these questions. Click here to read the study findings.

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