Brain Connectivity Different in People with Epilepsy

Posted Mar 8 2017 in Brain science; genetics

Brain connectivity in people with epilepsy and those without are different showed a study published in the journal Human Brain Mapping. According to the researchers this finding could lead to a better understanding of epilepsy and help scientists develop new therapies in the future.

The team led by Professor Marina Vannucci, Noah Harding Professor and Chair of Statistics at Rice University in Houston, Texas found that while in people without epilepsy there seem to be structures that plan and then activate movement in one direction, people with epilepsy harbour abnormal bidirectional interactions between brain structures.

The team used a novel statistical approach to analyse the brain of people with and without epilepsy to reveal how different areas of the brain interact with each other. First they conducted functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which produces maps of the brain based on blood flow and highlights areas of high activity. Then, they conducted standard MRI to obtain information about detailed structural connections in the brain thought to be necessary for effective communication. Combining both data sets, statisticians modelled links between structures in the brains of people with epilepsy and compared these with each other and with the brains of people without epilepsy.

In a press release Prof Vannucci said: ”The statistical approach has advantages. One is that we use data from multiple subjects. Rather than estimating networks from individuals and then averaging them, we estimate networks at the epileptic and control group levels by using all the data at once. Then we can look for differences between the two networks and across time. We take into account what we call heterogeneity, accounting for variations between one individual and another. It allows us to get better estimations. At the end of the day we have fewer false positives, so the network we are able to construct is more reliable. Ultimately, we want to understand what is different about that connectivity and the effect of epilepsy on the connections across the whole brain”.

Results obtained from fMRI data confirmed the presence of several previously known connections but also revealed novel connections in the brain of people with epilepsy, including two-way communications between different areas of the brain.

The first author of the study, Sharon Chiang added: ”Currently, surgical resection is the treatment of choice for some patients with medically refractory epilepsy. However, if drivers in these networks can be identified and possibly stimulated, rather than completely resected, this may potentially allow a more targeted treatment.”

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