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Research into brain rhythms before seizures

8 October, 2002

Neuroscientists at Flinders University in Adelaide are to investigate whether the intensity of brain rhythms can provide clues to onset of seizures.

A team, led by Professor John Willoughby, will build a research unit to investigate electroencephalograms (EEGs) from individuals with brain conditions including epilepsy.

"With the Wellcome Trust funding, we will now be able to record EEGs using more sensitive methods than ever before. We will measure rhythms beyond those normally seen in routine hospital EEG recordings, which measure from between one and 25 hertz (oscillations per second), now up to 100Hz. Our primary aim is to investigate the extent to which high frequency EEG rhythms are different in people with epilepsy."

The group's research to date suggests there are significant differences. In his initial work with laboratory rats, Professor Willoughby discovered that before rats experience an seizure their brain rhythms are increased in intensity at high EEG frequencies (above 30Hz).

Last year, the team studied 40 human subjects; 20 of these had partial seizures and 20 had generalised seizures. Professor Willoughby said:

"What this study revealed was that there is a constant increase in very high frequency rhythms in people [with] generalised epilepsy. What is extremely interesting about the result is that these are the rhythms that we as humans almost certainly use while our brains are carrying out various tasks, both consciously and subconsciously.

"At any given moment the brain is carrying out many tasks, most of which we ourselves are unaware of, in different areas of the brain. The different areas involved in any particular mental task function jointly using a particular high frequency rhythm.

"Knowing this, we now propose that the primary generalised form of epilepsy is related to abnormally intensified high frequency rhythms - a very new realisation which links this form of epilepsy to altered basic mechanisms of thinking."