We use a number of approaches to address questions about how seizures can occur, how they spread through cortical and sub-cortical brain areas, and what the ultimate impact on the other body organs may be. The most serious consequence is sudden death.
Our lab has two broad research emphases related to the causes and consequences of seizures. One approach uses brain slices to study cellular and circuit mechanisms of seizure generation, and the other approach uses in vivo methods (animals, humans) to study seizure spread and systemic consequences of seizures.
Over the last several years, we have developed a rat model that mirrors features of seizures and systemic pathology found in temporal lobe epilepsy patients and has permitted us to explore and define the cardiovascular and respiratory consequences of acute and chronic seizures, including the mechanisms for death in epilepsy. Our use of peripheral nerve recordings together with blood pressure, ECG, echocardiography, laryngoscopy, plethysmography, and EEG recordings during seizure activity has enabled us to define peripheral autonomic nerve activity and the extremes of activity that can cause severe brady- or tachyarrhythmias, and central or obstructive apnea.
Our rat model is unique in that we can elicit acute limbic cortical seizures during a battery of neural, cardiovascular, and respiratory recordings and measurements. The result of this body of work is that we have defined the mechanism for sudden death in epilepsy (SUDEP) to be seizure induced laryngospasm that causes obstructive apnea, rapid hypoxemia, respiratory arrest, cardiac arrest, and death. We also have demonstrated that this sequence includes biomarkers that link the human data and our model precisely.
Our work has enabled the development of tools and strategies to prevent death. In addition to biomarkers that can be used to signal the "death sequence" has started, we have derived other interventional devices from our work is the vagus nerve stimulation-based cardioverter/defibrillator. It is an example of how our work can drive practical therapeutic applications as one means for translating research from bench to bedside.
Rena Orman, Ph.D., Research Assistant Professor
Co-director, Program in Nanomedicine (a joint program with the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, Albany, NY)
Co-director, Program in Developmental Neuroscience (a joint program with the Institute for Basic Research, Staten Island, NY)