University of Tübingen: Changes in brain activity in Rolandic epilepsy can be influenced by specific sounds during sleep

Research team from the University and the University Hospital of Tübingen develops an approach to reduce epileptic activity in children
A form of epilepsy that is common in children is rolando epilepsy, in which the attacks mainly occur during sleep. Short sounds played during sleep can partially suppress the peaks that are characteristic of epilepsy and measurable in brain activity. A research team from the University and the University Hospital of Tübingen under the direction of Dr. Hong-Viet Ngo and Professor Jan Born from the Institute of Medical Psychology and Behavioral Neurobiology. These findings could form the basis for future research into therapies for this form of epilepsy. It is true that rolando epilepsy usually takes a mild course and often remains untreated. However, abnormalities in cognitive development associated with the disease could possibly be influenced by such a therapy. The new study was in the journalCell Reports Medicine published.

Rolando epilepsy usually first occurs in children between the ages of five and eight and disappears around the onset of puberty. “The seizures in this form of epilepsy are usually short. There may be twitching of the face and temporary speech disorders as part of the seizures,” explains the doctor involved in the study, Dr. med. Susanne Ruf from the children’s clinic. The seizures often only occur at very long intervals. Therefore, many parents and children choose not to take tablets. “The problem, however, is that epilepsy can disrupt normal brain activity during sleep in an important developmental phase in children.” Learning and language difficulties, memory and attention disorders have been associated with Rolando epilepsy.

Differences in brain activity
In the study, the research team recorded the electrical brain activity of seven children with Rolando epilepsy and seven healthy control persons of the same age during sleep in non-invasive electroencephalograms (EEG). “With our work we can confirm earlier findings that there are differences in brain activity in small patients during sleep compared to healthy children,” says Dr. Jens Klinzing from Born’s working group, the first author of the study. “This applies in particular to the so-called sleep spindles, an activity pattern that is important for processing memory during sleep.” During sleep and in quiet waking phases, the expected epileptic discharges were also measured, which are recorded as the deflection of the curve in the EEG. “One assumes

The fact that the probable place of origin of the spikes are the connections between the diencephalon and the cerebral cortex gave the researchers the idea of ​​carrying out experiments with sounds during sleep. “These connections are involved in the development of both spikes and sleep spindles,” says Klinzing. “It was known from previous studies that sleep spindles can be stimulated by sounds.” The researchers therefore suspected that this could also influence epileptic discharges. In fact, it turned out that the quietly played sounds reduced both the spike frequency and the intensity of the subsequent spikes in children with Rolandic epilepsy.

Promotion of the plastic processes in the brain
“As a result of the sounds, the desired sleep spindles appeared in the EEG,” says Dr. Ngo. These are an indicator that plastic processes are taking place in the brain that lead to the consolidation of memory contents. These are functions that can be impaired in Rolandic epilepsy. “We hope to have found an approach to suppress the unfavorable epileptic discharges associated with the disease a little,” says the scientist. Now a larger study with more patients and longer treatment times must corroborate the findings. One of the open questions is whether the suppression of the spikes leads to cognitive improvements in the affected children.

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