To better understand what may lead to seizure activity in the brain, especially in people with drug-resistant epilepsy, we need to understand the epigenetics of epilepsy. Epigenetics is the study of how genes (DNA segments, each with a specific code that determines its function) can be switched on or off by changes to the DNA that keep the gene code intact. Epigenetic changes can be triggered by many factors, including smoking, diet and even stress.
Many epigenetic changes are known to be important for human development but these processes can also play a role in disease. One of the most common epigenetic changes is when a methyl group (a compound with a carbon and hydrogens) is added to or removed from DNA. This then alters how the DNA functions, switching certain genes either on or off.
Dr. Michael O. Poulter at the Robart’s Research Institute (Western University) is trying to better understand the epigenetics of epilepsy by collecting samples of brain tissue removed during seizure surgery. In his study, he is comparing the pattern of methyl group changes in the brain tissue of adults with epilepsy to the patterns found in the brain tissue of adults without epilepsy.
This research study aims to identify which genes may be turned off or on by the addition of methyl groups, how this affects the patterns of gene activity and how this may play a role in drug-resistant epilepsy. In the future, this research will help create tailored treatments for epigenetic changes that are found within the brain tissue of people with epilepsy.