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Brain waves found in sleep shown to protect against epileptic activity

The neurological condition affects around 50 million people worldwide

Researchers from University College London (UCL) have revealed that slow brain waves that occur during sleep could protect against increased brain excitability in patients living with epilepsy.

In a study published in Nature Communications, researchers placed electrodes in 25 patients living with focal epilepsy to localise abnormal activity and inform surgical treatment.

Affecting around 50 million people worldwide, epilepsy is a neurological condition that affects the brain and causes frequent seizures.

Involving the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) UCLH Biomedical Research Centre, researchers studied electroencephalogram (EEG) scans from electrodes in the brain while patients carried out an associative memory task.

In nine groups of three, patients were presented with 27 pairs of images on a screen for six seconds, featuring a picture of a person, a place and an object.

While recording EEG data throughout, participants had to remember which images were grouped together.

Researchers discovered that the occurrence of slow waves presented during wakefulness for patients increased brain excitability, decreasing the impact of epileptic spikes on brain activity.

Specifically, researchers observed a decrease in the “firing” of nerve cells, which could help protect against epileptic activity.

Additionally, researchers also found that “wake” slow waves reduced nerve cell activity, affecting cognitive function, when increasing the length of time required by patients to complete the task.

They reported that for each increase of one slow wave per second, the patients’ reaction time increased by 0.56 seconds.

“Our study suggests that a naturally occurring activity is employed by the brain to offset pathological activities” and “also reinforces the idea that sleep activity can happen in specific areas of the brain rather than occurring evenly throughout the brain,” said lead author, Dr Laurent Sheybani, UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology.

Researchers hope that the findings from the study could lead to a new, novel treatment for individuals living with epilepsy.


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