FSU medical researcher awarded $1.6M for epilepsy work

Sanjay Kumar, associate professor in the College of Medicine’s Department of Biomedical Sciences
Sanjay Kumar, associate professor in the College of Medicine’s Department of Biomedical Sciences

Florida State University neuroscientist Sanjay Kumar has received $1.6 million from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke to pave the way for a more effective treatment for temporal lobe epilepsy.      

Temporal lobe epilepsy, the most common form in adults, is not improved with anti-epileptic medications. 

Kumar and his electrophysiology lab will identify epilepsy-causing neural circuits by measuring their electrical activity in three areas of the brain’s temporal lobe: the presubiculum, parasubiculum and entorhinal area.   

“We record neurons’ electrical activity and manipulate circuits in different regions of the brain to see if activity can be altered,” said Kumar, an associate professor in the College of Medicine’s Department of Biomedical Sciences. “Although the temporal lobe structures are interconnected, the precise details of that connectivity are still unknown.”

The temporal lobe processes sensory information and creates memories, comprehends language and controls emotions. A temporal lobe epileptic seizure is debilitating.

“The only way to get to therapeutic avenues for treatment is to understand what happens to the circuits and the neurons,” Kumar said. “A hallmark of temporal lobe epilepsy is the loss of a vulnerable population of neurons in a particular region called the entorhinal area.”

That region stores memories temporarily. During preliminary studies, Kumar and his team wanted to know why neurons there are overstimulated and die during an epileptic seizure. 

“For a long time we looked for answers within the entorhinal area itself,” he said, “and it dawned on us that perhaps the circuits that drive these neurons to become overactive are in two surrounding regions: the presubiculum and parasubiculum.” 

Kumar and his lab began studying these regions and they characterized seven types of neurons. One type became hyperexcitable during an epileptic attack and caused the same effect on two other areas of the temporal lobe. Now, with the help of the grant, the lab will look for additional neurons and neural circuits that cause epileptic seizures.

The research will lay the groundwork for new methods of treatment, such as replacing lost and/or hyperexcitable neurons with stem cells or using a technique called optogenetics that uses light to control cells in living tissue.

“In both of these approaches, you need to know which cell types become hyperexcitable and which circuits are responsible for bringing about epileptic seizures,” Kumar said. “Our study will allow us to get new tools to intervene.”

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke conducts and supports research on brain and nervous system disorders. Created by the U.S. Congress in 1950, it is one of the more than two dozen research institutes and centers that constitute the National Institutes of Health.