Grant winner 2014

“If we can understand the mechanisms linking stress and seizures, we should be able to develop means to prevent these seizures.” Professor Stafford Lightman (pictured)

Grant type: Pilot grant in epilepsy

Principal investigator: Professor Stafford Lightman

Institution: University of Bristol

Amount: £29,208

Duration: 24 months

Scientific title: How do stress hormones trigger seizures?

Why is this research needed? People with epilepsy frequently report emotional stress in the lead-up to a seizure; but although the association between stress and seizures is well recognised, the mechanisms for this is still not understood.

The steroid hormone cortisol is secreted by the body in spurts over the course of the day, and its levels increase dramatically during stress. Cortisol is known to have major effects on both neuronal activity and on the ways that brain cells communicate, so it could plausibly play a role in seizures.

What are the aims? The group plans to discover the part played by cortisol in the generation of seizures.

How will the research be carried out? The team will use animal and mathematical models to examine precisely how changes in cortisol levels alter the electrical activity of neuronal circuits in the brain that are known to be associated with seizures. They will later use synthetic compounds that regulate the activity of steroids, to find out whether stress-related seizures can be reduced or even prevented.

What difference will it make? If successful, this grant could potentially lead to the development of new treatments for epilepsy.