Is Epilepsy Genetic?

Research suggests that genetic abnormalities may be some of the most important factors contributing to epilepsy. Some types of epilepsy have been traced to an abnormality in a specific gene. Other types of epilepsy tend to run in families but the exact genetic mechanism is not yet known.

Some researchers estimate that more than 500 genes could play a role in epilepsy. However, it has become more and more clear that, for many forms of epilepsy, genetic abnormalities are only partly responsible. This may be because they increase a person’s likelihood of having seizures that are triggered by an environmental factor.

While abnormal genes sometimes cause epilepsy, they also may affect it in less noticeable ways. For example, one study showed that many people with epilepsy have an abnormally active version of a gene that increases resistance to drugs. This may help explain why anticonvulsant drugs do not work for some people.

Genes may also control other aspects of the body’s response to medications and each person’s chances of having seizures, also called a seizure threshold. Abnormalities in the genes that control nerve cell migration – a critical step in brain development – can lead to areas of misplaced or abnormally formed neurons, or dysplasia, in the brain that can cause epilepsy.

And, in some cases, genes may contribute to development of epilepsy even in people with no family history of the disorder. These people may have a newly developed abnormality, or mutation, in an epilepsy-related gene.

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Resources:

Mayo Clinic
Epilepsy Risk Factors