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Researchers Linked Seizures and Migraines

Update Date: Oct 31, 2014 02:26 PM EDT

Even though seizures and migraines occur in the brain, previous evidence suggested that they were separate physiological events. Now, according to researchers who examined the brain from a physics point of view, seizures and migraines might actually be linked.

"We wanted to make a more realistic model of what underlies migraines, which we were working on controlling," said Steven J. Schiff, Brush Chair Professor of Engineering and director of the Penn State Center for Neural Engineering. "We realized that no one had ever kept proper track of the neuronal energy being used and all of the ions, the charged atoms, going into and out of brain cells."

For this study, the researchers set out to create an improved model that would provide a better understanding of the biophysics of the brain. They already knew that potassium and sodium have key roles in controlling the electricity of the brain. The team added the fundamental physics principles of conservation of energy, charge and mass to this electricity model in order to track the energy used to run a nerve cell. The researchers also monitored the ions that passed in and out of the cells.

The team noted that after seizures and migraines, the brain required more energy sourced from oxygen to restore the ions to their proper positions.

Based from this new model, the team discovered that spikes, seizures and spreading depression, which is an underlying process that is linked to migraine auras, were all linked together. The activities were a part of a spectrum seen in nerve cell behavior.

"We have found within a single model of the biophysics of neuronal membranes that we can account for a broad range of experimental observations, from spikes to seizures and spreading depression," the researchers reported according to the press release. "We are particularly struck by the apparent unification possible between the dynamics of seizures and spreading depression."

Schiff, added, "We are not only interested in controlling seizures or migraines after they begin, but we are keen to seek ways to stabilize the brain in normal operating regimes and prevent such phenomena from occurring in the first place. This type of unification framework demonstrates that we can now begin to have a much more fundamental understanding of how normal and pathological brain activities relate to each other. We and our colleagues have a lot on our plate to start exploring over the coming years as we build on this finding."

The study was published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

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