About 5% of all children under the age of five years will experience at some point a seizure caused by a fever. These are called febrile seizures. These seizures are not normally serious, and go away when the fever subsides. However, if these seizures are long or occur frequently, developing temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE) in adulthood is more likely. This form of epilepsy is often not treatable with current anti-epileptic drugs.

Scientists think that the febrile seizures may cause some sort of damage to the brain cells in the hippocampus, and that this is then the cause of the seizures many years later. These developments may be linked by the activity of a protein called interleukin-1, which is part of the body’s immune system. Interleukin-1 helps generate and regulate the body’s immune response. Developing a fever is also part of this natural immune response.

Dr Stuart Allan at the University of Manchester has been awarded £59,518 over three years to investigate this link. This project, called “The association between febrile seizures and temporal lobe epilepsy and the role of interleukin-1“, will look for the link by studying interleukin-1 levels and distribution in the brain. Dr Allan will look at whether these levels can be affected by genetic background or by the administration of anti-inflammatory drugs. If interleukin-1 is proved to be part of the development of TLE from febrile seizures, this may provide the basis for a new treatment for febrile seizures in children which will reduce their chances of getting TLE later in life.

This is one of eight grants made by the Epilepsy Research Foundation (now Epilepsy Research UK) in 2006. Read about the other grants from 2006 here