Brain Injury May Cause Epilepsy


2014-0419 NeurotransmitterI am not a neurologist, biologist, resident, medical student, researcher, or research assistant. I do not have, nor have I ever had, epilepsy. However, I have a brain injury and I believe the findings of the Tufts University School of Medicine study could be important to some members of our community. This post is most likely to interest survivors, caregivers, family members, and friends of those people who have a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and/or post-TBI epilepsy. Except as otherwise indicated, text under the headings “The Facts,” “Findings,” and “Implications” are from a Tufts University press release.

The Facts

According to Chris Dulla, Ph.D., assistant professor of neuroscience at Tufts University School of Medicine, and member of the Cell, Molecular & Developmental Biology, and Neuroscience program at the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences, “a TBI can cause issues with walking, talking, and living independently. Brain injury is the ‘signature injury’ of those in the military who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Contact sports, falls, and motor vehicle accidents are also common causes of TBI.

Epilepsy affects more than 2.3 million Americans, according to estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Epilepsy Foundation estimates that 15 to 34 percent of TBI patients have post-traumatic epilepsy while the rate of post-traumatic epilepsy rises as high as 52 percent among TBI patients who served in active military roles.


The research team, led by David Cantu and Chris Dulla, studied the effect of traumatic brain injury on the levels of neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the cerebral cortex, the portion of the brain associated with higher level functions such as information processing.

Normally, GABA inhibits neurotransmission in the brain, while its precursor, glutamate, stimulates neurotransmission. When the cortex is damaged by brain injury, however, the cells that create GABA, called interneurons, die. This leads to a toxic buildup of glutamate, which overstimulates brain activity. The study identifies this disrupted balance of GABA and glutamate as a factor in increased epileptic brain activity.

The findings suggest that damage to brain cells called interneurons disrupts neurotransmitter levels and plays a role in the development of epilepsy after a traumatic brain injury.


“Our study is an important step in identifying the relationship between TBI and post-traumatic epilepsy. The study describes a potential outline of what happens after brain injury to trigger epilepsy, but the neurological causes of how TBI kills interneurons specifically after the initial injury are still unknown. Understanding how brain injury disrupts normal brain function will allow scientists and physicians to develop new treatments and therapies to help people recover from post-traumatic epilepsy,” said team leader Cantu.


To read another Beyond Injury post about Brain Anatomy, click here.

Thanks to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for helping us understand the scale of the problem; Epilepsy Foundation for providing supporting information; Tufts University School of Medicine for dedicating its resources to the research; Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences for contributing resources to the research; Google for helping me find the study; Bing for helping me find a picture for this post; and all the other people who, directly or indirectly, made it possible for me to include the picture and text I used in this post.

Tufts University School of Medicine and the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences at Tufts University are international leaders in innovative medical and population health education and advanced research. Tufts University School of Medicine emphasizes rigorous fundamentals in a dynamic learning environment to educate physicians, scientists, and public health professionals to become leaders in their fields. The School of Medicine and the Sackler School are renowned for excellence in education in general medicine, the biomedical sciences, and public health, as well as for innovative research at the cellular, molecular, and population health level. Ranked among the top in the nation, the School of Medicine is affiliated with six major teaching hospitals and more than 30 health care facilities. Tufts University School of Medicine and the Sackler School undertake research that is consistently rated among the highest in the nation for its effect on the advancement of medical and prevention science.


  1. Hi Scott – very interesting post. I had what were thought to be potential seizures after my brain surgery. Had a horribly expensive epilepsy test performed, which found I didn’t have epilepsy but did have a sleep movement disorder which was likely brain injury related. Think I’ll read up on the Tufts work.


    Howard Roll

    1. Howard, it is better to spend money on testing to rule out epilepsy, than to spend money on epilepsy drugs you do not need. Testing is less likely to have negative side effects than medication. ~ Scott

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