Understanding How Environment and Diet Affect Epilepsy

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Infantile spasms are drug-resistant seizures seen in children with West’s Syndrome - a childhood epilepsy syndrome. Infantile spasms begin around the first year of life, typically between the ages of 4-8 months. Currently, not much is known about West’s Syndrome or how to effectively treat the infantile spasms and intellectual disability associated with this syndrome.

Drs. Carter Snead and Miguel Cortez at the Hospital for Sick Children are currently researching what causes infantile spasms and how to treat them. To study this, they are testing treatments to stop infantile spasms in animals.

An interesting finding from Drs. Snead and Cortez’ research shows that animals who are more likely to develop infantile spasms due to genetics, do not develop the spasms when their mothers were housed in an enriched environment - where surroundings allow for physical and social stimulation. This suggests that it may not be just the offspring’s genetics or DNA that determine whether the spasms begin, but the mother's experience during pregnancy that may also affect what genes are turned on or off in her offspring (a concept known as epigenetics).

Ongoing studies are looking at whether other factors before birth (e.g. mother’s diet) might cause similar epigenetic changes.

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