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Researchers identify link between infant seizures and epilepsy as adults

20 August, 2003

A new study has identified why infants who suffer prolonged fever-induced (febrile) seizures are more susceptible to further seizures and epilepsy as adults.

According to the researchers at UC Irvine College of Medicine, prolonged fever-induced seizures increase the brain's production of endocannabinoids, a natural marijuana-related substance that helps regulate the transmission of neural signals. When this occurs, the neural receptors linked to endocannabinoids undergo long-term modifications that increase the possibility of adult epilepsy.

Ivan Soltesz, professor of anatomy and neurobiology at UC Irvine, said:

"The significance of these findings is twofold. First, they provide a mechanistic explanation as to why febrile seizures in childhood lead to an increased susceptibility to seizures that lasts until adulthood. Second, they suggest a new drug that interferes with this occurrence during childhood may significantly decrease the likelihood of future epileptic seizures. The components of these new drugs will likely be man-made chemicals distantly related to marijuana."

Soltesz and colleagues found that experimental prolonged febrile seizures in rats enhanced the number of receptors for endocannabinoids in the part of the brain important for memory and damaged by adult epilepsy. They also discovered that a single episode of febrile seizures was enough to cause a permanent increase in the number and activity of receptors that transmit endocannabinoids.

Soltesz, who first discovered the febrile seizure-epilepsy link in 1999, commented:

"These findings show that prolonged seizures in childhood can have highly specific consequences in certain sensitive areas of the brain.