Epilepsy Can Age the Brain


MRI scans of patients with intractable epilepsy showed their brains age prematurely, a study found. These patients' brains looked almost 9 years older than they really were.

Scans of the brains of patients with intractable epilepsy revealed a brain that looked older than the patient’s chronological age.

In a study presented at the American Epilepsy Society 69th Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, PA, researchers from NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City used MRI scans to assess the difference in these two ages.

Heath Pardoe, PhD, an assistant professor of neurology and lead author of the study said the difference between these intractable epilepsy patients’ “brain age” and actual chronology age was about 8.8 years. They used a machine-learning algorithm in doing the assessments, with metrics taken from scans of healthy patients. They also looked at scans of patients with new onset focal epilepsy and found these' patients showed no difference between their actual age and their brains' estimated age.

The software would evaluate brain MRIs and use it to estimate the patients’ ages. There were 18 patients with intractable epilepsy in the study along with 20 patients with new-onset focal epilepsy and 20 healthy controls.

“Intractable focal seizures are associated with an increased brain age of approximately 8.8 years when an individual’s age is predicted using white matter images derived from structural MRI,” the team concluded. “The absence of similar changes in new-onset focal epilepsy cases suggests than ongoing seizures may be responsible for the brain-aging phenomenon observed in this study.”

The findings could be used to diagnose intractable epilepsy, they suggested.

Authors of related studies published earlier also discussed their findings.

Matti Sillanpaa, MD, a professor and senior research scientist at the University of Turku, Finland reported on a 50-year follow-up of epilepsy patients who were diagnosed in childhood. “Despite having excellent seizure outcomes, the subjects proved to have abnormal neurologic signs, including markers of cerebrovascular disease,” Sillanpaa said.

In a second Finland study, Asla Pitkanen, MD, PhD, DSC, at the University of Eastern Finland linked traumatic brain injury to post-traumatic epilepsy, particularly in elderly people which genes that put them at risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

In a mouse study they found that the combination of such injury and a family history of Alzheimer’s can result in a greater chance of developing epilepsy.

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