A new study has uncovered evidence of the role played by oestrogen in causing epileptic seizures.
Conducted by Northwestern University in the US, the research has shown that the female growth hormone (oestrogen), which is produced in the brains of both men and women, contributes to the escalation of seizure activity. This suggests that oestrogen-blocking drugs could potentially be used as a means of controlling seizures.
Published in the scientific journal eLife, the study looked at rodents affected by status epilepticus, a prolonged, dangerous period of seizure activity.
In both male and female animals, seizures were shown to increase the production of oestrogen in a part of the brain called the hippocampus, which is important for memory function.
Some of the animals then were given a type of drug called an aromatase inhibitor, which blocks the production of oestrogen and is commonly used in the treatment of breast cancer. This strongly suppressed the escalation of seizures in both sexes, without the need for antiepileptic drugs.
The scientists had originally suspected that this approach might undermine the role oestrogen plays in protecting the structure and function of neurons, potentially exacerbating the damage caused by seizures, however no such effect was seen here.
Stephen Smith, Professor of Medicine at Oregon Health and Science University, said: “Given the unacceptably high mortality rate of status epilepticus in humans, these findings are likely to elicit great interest by physicians in the field. They will hopefully also trigger clinical trials to determine the efficacy and safety of currently available aromatase inhibitors in patients with this condition.”
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