Despite years of research into the causes of epilepsy and the treatment of seizures, little attention has been paid to the causes of memory loss and depression in patients with temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE), the commonest drug resistant form of epilepsy in adults. Patients with TLE often show progressing memory loss over a period of years.

We know that growing new brain cells in the hippocampus (the part of the brain most concerned with memory) is important to maintaining memory function, particularly spatial memory. Normally this process, called neurogenesis, continues throughout life. However in brains affected by epilepsy, neurogenesis does not happen, or only happens at a reduced rate.

This study will test the theory that reduced growth of new brain cells is the cause of reduced memory in TLE. Professor William Gray and colleagues at the University of Southampton, who have been awarded £60,515 over three years, will investigate the relationship between memory decline and reduced rate of neurogenesis, and how this is affected by the presence of epilepsy. The study, entitled “Does restoration of neurogenesis in chronic TLE improve spatial learning?” will also investigate whether this process can be reversed: whether administering a drug that increases neurogenesis can improve spatial memory function.

If this drug intervention is possible, this would be the first exciting step towards a new treatment for a debilitating aspect of chronic epilepsy for many patients.

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