THEN AND NOW (Part 2) - NOT KNOWING THE CAUSE MEANS NO EFFECTIVE TREATMENT...
(See Part 1: https://www.facebook.com/epilepsyconnections/posts/307229759868258) ... One of the major factors in how fast research is progressing is that the understanding of the complex principles behind how the body and Neurons transmit electrical signals.
The old myth (still somewhat present today) is that the nerve systems in our bodies and Neurological systems in our brains were "solid" and "connected" like the bodies blood vessel system. This is not true - Neurons and Nerves are individual cells that are able to pass electrical signals via "channels" using other chemicals / proteins present in the body (calcium, potassium and sodium ions are prime examples) to one another.
In very basic terms - its kind of like passing an electrical current through water, which is able to conduct electricity. But far more complex - like a pool with thousands of different little floating chips that can conduct electric all at different rates - and some of which are like little batteries able to generate their own current. Plus the ratio of "conductive chips" (high and low capacity) to "batteries" differs dramatically depending on where in the "pool" you are. So the "Channel" the electrical current takes through this "pool" will make the current / frequency / wattage change as it moves through.
The complexity of how electrical signals are passed through our body while being encoded into "language" that can be read by the brain (and vice versa) is one of the hurdles that has prevented advanced research into Epilepsy, general Seizures and many other conditions. Until recently - this complex "system" was widely a mystery - but discoveries in numerous different fields has shed light on exactly how this happens.
Nerve and Neuron cells are not just a couple of different things... there are 2 main forms: "Excitory" that send signals MORE likely to get a response from surrounding cells and "Inhibitory" that send signals LESS likely to generate a response from surrounding cells. Then there are thought to be over 150 "subcategories" that speak different "languages"...
This combination of over 300 cells that transmit electrical activity - either in an "excitory" or "inhibitory" way - means an electrical signal that is passed through the brain / body goes through all these varying cell types / languages is what "encodes" the signal so it can be read by the brain or (vice versa) interpreted by the body.
*see our story on "Neurological Coding Errors": https://www.facebook.com/epilepsyconnections/posts/263303397594228?__tn__=K-R
But this is only half the equation - as we have noted - the cells that generate and conduct electrical signals are the "batteries" per say... but they also have to pass through a "Channel" created by chemicals that conduct electricity (the "floating conductive chips") passing the signal to one another.
One of the most common fields of research currently being looked into relating to Epilepsy is into "Sodium ion Channels"... (see link: https://medicalxpress.com/…/2017-02-sodium-channels-epileps…).
Sodium ions are "highly conductive" particles that pass through cell membranes (Including Neurons for example) and can "align" when an electrical signal is released from a Neuron to conduct the signal. Of 4 main "sodium ion channels" used (predominantly) in the brain all are linked to "hyperexcitability" (or an irregularly high rate of conduction) when there are malfunctions with rates of sodium ions within cells.
In one Genetic Study - it was found a certain gene (SCN3A) that regulates levels of sodium ions into cell membranes (particularity Neurons) had a mutation leading to an error in how it regulated sodium ion levels. This caused the Neural Channel to remain "lodged open" causing to a leaking effect of electrical signals - found to be responsible for causing electrical flaring and signal amplification. (see link: https://medicalxpress.com/…/2018-03-mutation-severe-infant-…)
This is not just a case of the problems with actual Neurons (or "batteries") themselves - but the conductive pathways (or "chips in the pool") that transmit the signals. And this can be cause Genetically, Via illness, as a result of other conditions, due to trauma and many other causes. (see link: https://medicalxpress.com/…/2017-04-insights-sodium-channel…)
So in summary: - We now know that the way electrical signals are conducted, altered and ultimately interpreted by our Neurological systems are only partially controlled by the Neurons themselves. - Malformations (both cellular and genetic) in Neurons themselves are subsequently only a part of why seizures occur. - Faults in how Neurons send signals plus how they are received and transmitted - combined with the complex balance of amplification and inhibitation of signals as they travel through cells - plays a major role. - Irregularities or faults in the chemical and cellular systems that transmit signals between Neurons (such as sodium ion channels) can cause "hyperexcitability" / "abnormally high rates of conduction" leading to electrical flaring. - ANY of these factors can on their own cause seizures, but more often multiple factors are involved - especially in more severe cases of Epilepsy - ALL of these factors can have numerous causes such as genetic errors, cellular malformation, Neurological coding errors, Chemical imbalances and more - and these can all be caused by numerous causes themselves... Not just Epilepsy but other diseases / conditions. - By having EXACT diagnosis of how, why and for what reason seizures are occurring, research will progress faster and treatments become far more defined.
(see link for related medical publication: https://medicalxpress.com/news/2017-02-sodium-channels-epilepsy.html?fbclid=IwAR3kt2izSbwUwF62yxePEirVyVntRtJDEyJksog4JyXaYHnK4xesWmMRXRw)
Paul Lang: ECA CEO & Founder