‘Silent seizures’ are the first sign of Alzheimer’s – and could help doctors catch the disease years in advance

Researchers have dubbed the episodes ‘silent seizures’ because they don’t cause convulsions and aren’t detected by normal brain scans

Doctors have detected ‘silent seizures’ that mark the onset of Alzheimer’s disease in a breakthrough study that could lead to new treatments for millions of patients.

The devastating illness begins with seizures deep in the main memory structure of the brain, known as the hippocampal region, specialized brain scans reveal.

The phenomenon was first spotted in mouse models 10 years ago.

Now, doctors at the Baylor College of Medicine say they were able to observe the dysfunctional patterns in two patients by using fine wires to place electrodes into deep regions of their brains.

Researchers have dubbed the episodes ‘silent seizures’ because they don’t cause convulsions and aren’t detected by normal brain scans.

The breakthrough could lead to new therapies for the degenerative illness, researchers claim.

Dr Jeffrey Noebels, a professor of neurology and neuroscience at the institute, said: ‘About 10 years ago, we were surprised to find ‘silent seizures’ in mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease.

‘When we measured the animal’s brain electrical activity, we detected abnormal electrical discharges in the brain with a seizure-like pattern.

‘The mice, however, did not present with convulsions.

‘These ‘clinically silent seizures’ in the deep regions of the brain, we speculated, could lead to problems of memory.’

Doctors inserted electrodes into two human patients’ brains through small incisions in their skulls.

They were then able to observe ‘clear silent seizures’ that weren’t detected by standard brain scans, known as electroencephalogram tests.

The none-convulsive seizures could be an early warning sign in the majority of Alzheimer’s patients, who have a sporadic form of the disease.

Dr Noebels added: ‘This work with two patients proves the concept that ‘silent seizures’ can occur in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.’

His colleague, Dr Andrew Cole, said the seizures ‘could contribute to or accelerate the degenerative process underlying Alzheimer’s disease’.

He added: ‘It is very exciting that we were able to move from an observation in genetically engineered mouse models of Alzheimer’s to a demonstration of the same phenomenon in patients with verified Alzheimer’s disease.

‘This is a critical step toward a better understanding of network dysfunction in the disease and opens the window to novel therapeutic approaches for this common condition.’

The report’s co-author Dr Alica Goldman added: ‘From a physician’s perspective, I think this work opened my eyes toward the need to look deeper into our patients’ condition in order to improve the quality of their lives as well as that of their caregivers.’

The Baylor College of Medicine said the discovery ‘provides a better understanding of the condition and can potentially lead to new treatments for this devastating disease’.

Written by Mia De Graaf for and published by The Daily Mail ~ May 1, 2017.

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