Epilepsy Sparks

PhD Study - Reduced Brain Volume in Epilepsy Patients

PhD Study - Reduced Brain Volume in Epilepsy Patients


Name & Location:     My name is Kasey Heminton (the one on the left!) and I live in Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Occupation & Studies: I'm currently finishing up my PhD in Neuroscience at the University in Toronto. My research focuses on using neuroimaging techniques (like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and magnetoencephalography (MEG)) to study how brain function differs in different clinical conditions. Right now, I'm studying brain function in individuals who have chronic pain. Doing a PhD is a big commitment, but it has been a very rewarding experience. Everyone I work with is very passionate about pushing the limits and expanding our collective knowledge to understand what is happening to the brain in different neurological disorders and conditions. It's exciting to know that the research I publish can help make a difference in the lives of those living with neurological conditions, like epilepsy.

Passion:    Something I'm passionate about is science communication. This past winter, I started BrainPost (www.brainpost.co) together with Dr. Leigh Christopher (PhD) (the person on the right!), who works as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Stanford University. As researchers, we realized BrainPost is an e-newsletter that provides scientific summaries of recently published neuroscience studies. We wanted to create a resource that explains research findings in a digestible, easy-to-read format with the goal of increasing awareness and accessibility of new research. With BrainPost, we hope that everyone can learn more about the scientific process and stay up-to-date with the latest neuroscience findings. I hope you enjoy the BrainPost about brain structure in epilepsy! If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to reach out to us on Twitter: @brainpostco


Reduced Brain Volume in Epilepsy Patients

What’s the science?

Epilepsy is a complex disorder characterized by seizures. The way that brain structure relates to the severity of epilepsy is not well understood. This week in Brain, Whelan and colleagues report structural brain changes in a large sample of epilepsy patients.

How did they do it?

Epilepsy patients were recruited from 24 research centers across 14 different countries. This resulted in 2149 epilepsy patients that were divided into 4 subgroups based on epilepsy type. The patients were scanned using MRI and the brain scans were analyzed to measure brain volumes and cortical thickness (the thickness of the outermost layer of the brain: the cerebral cortex) compared to healthy control participant brains.

What did they find?

They found that in all types of epilepsy, there was reduced brain volume in the right and left thalamus and reduced cortical thickness in the right and left precentral gyrus (motor cortex), which are both important brain regions involved in movement. In the subgroup of medial temporal lobe epilepsy patients, there was reduced brain volume in the hippocampus (a region involved in memory). Lower brain volumes and cortical thickness were associated with a longer duration of epilepsy.

What’s the impact?

This is the largest brain imaging study of epilepsy that has ever been done. Before this study, we didn’t know the extent to which structural brain changes occur in epilepsy. We now know that there are significant structural brain changes in the thalamus and precentral gyrus in epilepsy, which are both very important brain regions for movement and should be investigated further.

C. D. Whelan et al., Structural brain abnormalities in the common epilepsies assessed in a worldwide ENIGMA study. Brain. 0, 1–18 (2018). 

Access the original scientific publication here.

 Kasey Hemington

  PhD Candidate in Neuroscience at the University of Toronto, Canada