Lowering temperature of specific brain regions could treat epileptic seizures

The study, conducted at the Nara Institute of Science and Technology, Japan, sought to increase understanding on how focal cooling functions.

Treatment with medication or surgery does not work for some patients with epilepsy. Scientists have recently started to conduct research into focal cooling – the practice of implanting a device into the brain to suppress the electrical signals that cause epileptic seizures.

The process of focal cooling has only ever shown consistent success in rats. Even so, whilst the process has suppressed the strength of epileptic discharges, it sometimes slightly increases the frequency of the discharges.

Accordingly, the research team from the Nara Institute of Science and Technology, Japan, used a computational approach to investigate the mechanisms that work during focal cooling. The scientists used a model of the rat brain to simulate different mechanisms that provoke different epileptic discharge reactions to focal cooling. 

Using pre-collected data from laboratory and rate studies, the researchers simulated a mechanism that enabled focal cooling to reduce the activity at connections between neurons. This resulted in a noticeable change to the frequency of epileptic discharges.

However, scientists were unable to recreate the electrical patterns previously observed in focal brain cooling experiments, with the first mechanism. Thus, a second mechanism was devised where the focal cooling resulted in discharges that were persistent but weaker.

By using both mechanisms, the researchers could successfully reproduce the results from previous rat experiments.

The study’s co-author Takatomi Kubo said:

“Focal brain cooling could be an alternative treatment for epileptic seizures with lower risk of irreversible functional loss compared to surgery. Our study attempts to start an initiative on thermal neuromodulation of brain activity using a computational approach that can elucidate its mechanism and complement animal experiments and clinical tests.”

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