Treatment for epilepsy is a possible culprit for development of schizophrenia

CHICAGO — Researchers say antiepilectic drug treatments administered when the brain is developing appear to trigger schizophrenia-like behavior in animal models. In humans, having a history of seizures in infancy is a significant risk factor for development of schizophrenia later in life, but it is not known whether the elevated risk is due to seizures themselves, or from side effects antiepileptic drug (AED) treatment.

In research presented at the 39th annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, Georgetown University Medical Center researchers show that exposure to AEDs during critical periods of brain development in animal models increases schizophrenia-like behaviors.

“We know that early-life exposure to AEDs such as Phenobarbital triggers cell death in many brain regions associated with the onset of schizophrenia,” explains Guillermo Palchik, a doctoral student in the department of pediatrics at GUMC. “This study not only suggests a relationship between the drugs and schizophrenia, but it raises important questions regarding the side effects of a widely-used class of drugs. Phenobarbital and other AEDs are not only used as a treatment for seizures but more generally in the treatment of migraines, neuropathic pain and mood disorders, among other ailments, and can be considered drugs of abuse.”

The study was funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health and a research award from GlaxoSmithKline. The authors report no related financial interests.

About Georgetown University Medical Center

Georgetown University Medical Center is an internationally recognized academic medical center with a three-part mission of research, teaching and patient care (through Georgetown’s affiliation with MedStar Health). GUMC’s mission is carried out with a strong emphasis on public service and a dedication to the Catholic, Jesuit principle of cura personalis — or “care of the whole person.” The Medical Center includes the School of Medicine and the School of Nursing and Health Studies, both nationally ranked, the world-renowned Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Biomedical Graduate Research Organization (BGRO), home to 60 percent of the university’s sponsored research funding.

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