Silent seizures: seeds of Alzheimer’s disease?

A gray-haired woman sleeps. A graph of EEG activity during a seizure is overlaid.

It can be frightening to watch a person experiencing an epileptic seizure. But some seizures can’t be seen, and these play a role in a different form of devastation—Alzheimer’s disease (AD)—according to work led by University of Minnesota researcher Keith Vossel.

With colleagues at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), Vossel found previously undetected electrical activity similar to epileptic seizures in 42 percent of Alzheimer’s disease patients—four times the incidence in matched controls.

The seizure events were “subtle neuronal discharges during sleep that people didn’t even realize were happening and that can only be detected with sensitive tests,” says Vossel, an associate professor of neurology.

                                                                                                                                              Keith Vossel (r.) with members of his lab

Keith Vossel and four members of his lab stand in the lab.
News Image: 

The patients who had these seizure-like episodes also showed faster decline in overall mental ability than patients who didn’t, a finding that lends urgency to the search for a treatment. Fortunately, antiseizure drugs are on the market, and some may improve symptoms and patient outcomes, and lift some of the emotional and financial burdens on caregivers.

The U of M is now sponsoring a phase II clinical trial of one FDA-approved antiseizure drug to treat the epileptic activity associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Begun at UCSF, the trial started enrolling patients at the U of M last fall—shortly after Vossel, formerly of UCSF, arrived here. The trial is expected to conclude in early 2020.
University of Minnesota, Twin Cities