In an effort to put an end to the debilitating consequences of recurrent seizures and ineffective treatments for epilepsy patients, a cell transplant may be the key.

Researchers from the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) published a study on May 5 in Nature Neuroscience detailing a one-time medial ganglionic eminence (MGE) cell transplant that was able to control the seizures of mice with epilepsy.  MGE cells are a type of progenitor cells that could differentiate into interneurons, or nerve cells that inhibit signaling.

The transplant prevented overactive signaling of nerve cells and was performed in the hippocampus region of the brain that is responsible for learning and memory functions and linked with seizures.  

"These cells migrate widely and integrate into the adult brain as new inhibitory neurons," said Scott Baraban, professor in residence of neurological surgery at UCSF. "This is the first report in a mouse model of adult epilepsy in which mice that already were having seizures stopped having seizures after treatment."

Epilepsies are known to induce violent muscle contractions and, in other cases, loss of consciousness and control which can lead to serious injuries. The condition is a result of excessive and abnormal firing of nerve signals in the brain.

Researchers transplanted these inhibitory cells, which were able to reduce the uncontrollable signals, eliminating seizures in half of the mice and drastically reducing impulsive seizures in the other half. Specifically, the MGE cells were taken from mouse embryos and, when implanted, they migrated and spawned into interneurons to repair the broken neural system in epileptic mice.

In a previous study published on May 2 in the journal Cell Stem Cell, UCSF researchers also turned human pluripotent stem cells into cells that display MGE-like characteristics in their laboratory and similarly acted as nerve-inhibiting cells when transplanted in healthy mice. This finding could help researchers uncover the cells' functions in treating the neural disorders.

Other positive outcomes from the most recent study included reduced agitation and hyperactivity in mice. The mice also performed better in exercises that tested their learning and memory skills.

In another study, more progress has been done to help predict seizures in epileptic patients who are limited by current treatment options. In this case, electrodes are surgically implanted between the skull and brain and communicate to another electrode in the chest. The data accumulated from this device monitors when a seizure is likely to occur.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), two-thirds of people with epilepsy receive the best outcomes by using drugs to control seizures, while the remaining population only benefit partially and experience a recurrence of seizures. However, researchers say some of these therapeutic options have no significance at all.

"Our results are an encouraging step toward using inhibitory neurons for cell transplantation in adults with severe forms of epilepsy," said Barbaran. "This procedure offers the possibility of controlling seizures and rescuing cognitive deficits in these patients."