New neuron research could help detect seizures before they happen

10 Jan 2023

Image: © Matthieu/

Researchers at UCC and Yale detected changes in the brain 40 to 60 seconds before a seizure occurred.

New research has detected a pattern of brain activity that occurs before a seizure happens, which could help the development of early warning technology.

The study found that neurons in the brains of rodents generally fall into one of four functional groups during absence seizures, which are seizures defined by a loss of consciousness.

The team, led by Dr Cian McCafferty at University College Cork (UCC) and Dr Hal Blumenfeld at Yale University, believe these neuron groups are playing different roles in the initiation and persistence of seizures.

The researchers said it was previously thought that all neurons had similar activity patterns during a seizure, giving no obvious target for therapeutic interventions.

But the four patterns of activity suggests that loss of consciousness during seizures may be caused by specific subsets of neurons, which could be targeted pharmaceutically to reduce this issue.

“We wanted to find out why people lose consciousness when they have epileptic seizures,” said study lead McCafferty. “For people with epilepsy, not knowing when their next seizure will occur is cited as one of the most difficult parts of living with the disease.”

The study, published in the science journal Nature Communications, detected electrophysiological changes in the brain between 40 to 60 seconds before a seizure.

“We hope that our research will be a significant step towards the development of an early warning system so we can ensure people’s safety or even avert the seizure before it happens,” McCafferty said.

Epilepsy is estimated to affect around 40,000 people in Ireland and 50m people worldwide. UCC vice-president for research and innovation, Prof John Cryan, said the study offers “promising results” for developing therapeutic strategies, which could transform the lives of people living with the condition.

In 2021, an Irish-led project was awarded €4.4m in EU funding to develop a “living brain implant” that could sense and treat epilepsy seizures.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic