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Scientists link concussions to seizures, development of epilepsy

The cortical grey matter of a mouse is depicted in this 3D reconstructed confocal image. Researchers at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC linked a subtype of atypical brain cells called astroscytes with post-traumatic genesis of epilepsy. The reactive astrocytes are characterized by proteins glutamate transporter 1 (blue) and S100 beta (green). Instead of undergoing cell death after mild traumatic brain injury, the atypical astrocytes have an enhanced expression of fluorescent protein tdTomato (red). Image by Oleksii Shandra.

Scientists from the Dr. Robel research team found that some astrocytes are altered in a new and unique way almost immediately after mild traumatic brain injury/concussion. Then, weeks later, the scientists observed spontaneous, recurrent seizures in those mice with most altered astrocytes..

Traumatic brain injury is a leading cause of epilepsy, which is characterized as the repeated occurrence of seizures. No treatments currently interrupt the process that the brain undergoes after injury that can eventually lead to the chronic condition of epilepsy. 

The study, published Jan. 21 in JNeurosci, suggests that the development of epilepsy triggered by mild traumatic brain injury may be related to an atypical response from brain cells known as astrocytes, which change to form scars after a severe brain injury. This process is important to protect uninjured brain areas but comes at a price, because these scars have been associated with epilepsy. 

“Our experiments show a strong relationship between changes in astrocytes and the eventual occurrence of a seizure,” said corresponding study author Stefanie Robel, who is an assistant professor with the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute and at the School of Neuroscience in Virginia Tech’s College of Science. “The findings point to a unique population of astrocytes that respond within 30 minutes of an injury being at the root of the problem where seizures may occur after a latency period of weeks or months, suggesting a therapeutic window to prevent seizure disorders after concussive injuries.”

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