BackgroundFocal epilepsies that originate in a specific part of the brain cortex are often resistant to existing anti-epileptic drugs, and there is an urgent need for new treatment strategies. Previous experimental research into these focal epilepsies has largely focused on acute seizures that have been purposefully induced in isolated brain tissue where long-range connections between neurons have been severed. However, in brains with chronic (or long-standing) epilepsy there are both pro-epileptic and anti-epileptic changes to neuronal networks that need to be investigated, along with the role of long-range connections in seizure spread.The researchDr Rob Wykes, at University College London, recently developed an animal model of chronic focal epilepsy, which has become a powerful tool for investigating seizure mechanisms and evaluating novel treatment options. Recent technical advances in microscopy mean that it is now possible to image and capture, in real time and exquisite detail, the activity of large populations of specific neuronal types in awake animals. However, this technology has not previously been used in epilepsy research.In 2014 ERUK awarded Dr Wykes a 36-month fellowship, in which he aimed to apply these cutting-edge techniques to his model of chronic focal epilepsy and explore how specific brain cells behave before and during a seizure.Findings to dateThe grant is now a year in and is progressing well. The necessary techniquesare very new and extremely complex, and Dr Wykes has spent time developing his skills using an acute model of focal epilepsy. This has been necessary so that he can conduct his investigation of chronic focal epilepsy to the very best of his ability.The work to date has also been very valuable. Dr Wykes has tracked specific networks of excitatory neurons before and during an acute seizure in awake models, and he has uncovered new information. A key observation has been that the spread of epileptic activity doesn’t depend only on the distance between cells, but it is closely linked to the connections and functions of the seizure focus (the area in which seizures begin) when it is functioning normally. Dr Wykes hopes to publish this finding in the near future.SignificanceWe are very excited to see the end results of Dr Wykes’ fellowship, as we are confident that they will greatly increase our understanding of seizure spread across the brain. His current work in a chronic epilepsy model will result in better knowledge of how specific groups of neurons behave during seizure onset and spread, and will potentially enable researchers to find strategies to block this activity.Click here to see our full research portfolio.