The Basic Science of Brain Stimulation

Brain stimulation for the treatment of epilepsy is a growing area of research. It has been effective in stopping seizures in animals, and now, human studies are beginning with the hopes that it will have the same effect. But how does brain stimulation stop seizures?

Dr. Taufik Valiante and his team at Toronto Western Hospital are trying to answer this question using brain slices - tissue removed from the human brain and kept alive in a dish. To answer this question, seizures are triggered in the brain slices, allowing Dr. Valiante to study how the neurons (brain cells) transition from normal activity levels to being over-excited during the seizure. When the seizure occurs, the over-excited brain cells all fire together, a pattern known as synchronization. Brain stimulation is then applied to the brain slices during the seizure (e.g. during synchronization), and the activity in the brain cells is observed as it returns to normal.

To date, Dr. Valiante and his colleagues have shown that over-stimulating the cells that typically decrease brain activity can cause a seizure. However, more needs to be done to understand how stimulation of other cell types can stop or prevent seizures in the human brain.

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