Epilepsy Talk

Kindling — A Fire for Your Brain? | April 3, 2017

When you think of “kindling,” think of confusing. Controversy. Cure.

No, it’s not the little twigs for a bonfire!

But the name “kindling” was inspired by a log fire.

The log many be suitable for a fire, but alone, it’s difficult to get a flame going.

But add some smaller, light pieces of wood (“kindling”) and set them on fire and soon the log will be blazing.

And this blazing fire has been at the center of epilepsy research for more than three decades.

Its purpose?

To provide key insights into seizures and epilepsy.

It remains a mainstay of epilepsy related research, but the question remains how the results from kindling experiments further our understanding of the underlying neurobiology of human epilepsy.

That answer to that question remains elusive.

Perhaps it’s because the kindling theory is a convenient explanation for the recurrent nature of many neuropsychiatric illnesses…

Kindling occurs at all ages. It can be caused by stress (like everything else), environment, even chemicals.

In the beginning, the episodes are stimulus-dependent with results appearing in only brief electrical discharges and mild behavioral changes.

Then they reappear when provoked.

And with each recurrence, the neural systems fire up a little more easily, until they have a life of their own.

Ultimately, they begin to appear without the incendiary stimulus and result in more prolonged and intense electrical and behavioral seizures.

The seizure trigger areas are located in the temporal lobes, along the sides of the brain, which is the most common form of epilepsy and the most difficult to treat.

The stimulation of the brain by brief low-intensity electrical current or pharmacological agents, in turn, produces seizure behavior of gradually increasing intensity that ultimately culminates in a full, clonic, motor seizure.

Interestingly, the impact of these persistent biochemical and physiological alterations that accompany kindling, may influence behavior for a long period of time, despite the absence of further seizure stimulation.

The sensitivity of limbic structures to kindling may contribute to this behavior and cognitive qualities that are particularly influenced by the kindling process.

It has been reported that repeated seizure stimulation can result in spontaneous seizures, but studies have had conflicting findings on this question.

In humans, some seizure disorders come to an end by themselves even after large numbers of seizures.

However, in both human epilepsy and in some animal models, evidence suggests that a process like that found in kindling may also fail to stop seizures.

Think of it as fighting fire with fire.

While science has not unlocked all the secrets of brain function to date, we do know that the brain is flexible and adaptable.

It grows new neuronal pathways to process information or thoughts.

This is important with regards to seizures in that the brain can “learn to seize” via kindling — if seizures are allowed to continue uncontrolled.

It also offers hope though that the brain can learn how to function without seizing when seizures are fully controlled for several years.

(2 years is usually the milestone where neurologists may test for normalized brain function to possibly reduce/eliminate medications.)

So although there’s controversy, there’s promise.

After all, kindling wouldn’t have lasted for three decades if it was a useless science.

From it we can learn. And hope. And as ridiculous as it may seem: seizures may actually prevent future seizures!  

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  1. hi hope you are doing good is there anyway you will be here in las vegas anytime let me know your friend susan


    Comment by pooterbear — April 3, 2017 @ 11:04 AM

    • Thanks Susan. I used to go to Las Vegas twice a year for 10 years. But I haven’t been there since my father (who lived there) died.


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — April 3, 2017 @ 11:36 AM

      • My prayers & condolences for losing your father.
        Be strong to cope with the painful grief.
        May God bless your heart to overcome all odds.


        Comment by Gerrie — April 3, 2017 @ 9:10 PM

  2. Hmm, rather than fueling the fire to get bigger, how about dousing it with water? Supposedly that’s what my emergency med, Ativan does. Granted you need to have an aura to know when ones going to happen. Last year i was without a seizure for 7 months, that was a miracle. Then it was back to every 2 months for my next 2 seizures. Maybe my brain is trying to heal it’self, Who knows the brain is a wonderful thing, filled with all kinds of self healing ways.


    Comment by Zolt — April 3, 2017 @ 11:41 PM

    • Hi Zolt, it’s great to hear from you.

      You’re right, most theories turn to dousing the fire, whether it be by meds, complementary medicine, alternative medicine or surgery.

      This method is controversial and perhaps limited in its use, but I thought it was an interesting and different concept worth reading about.


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — April 4, 2017 @ 9:56 AM

  3. Gerrie, it’s so good to hear from you. And thank you for your condolences.

    You’re always so thoughtful and caring.


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — April 4, 2017 @ 9:51 AM

  4. Very interesting article indeed! I’ve never heard of this type of intervention and probably never will. I’m going on almost 6 years seizure free and believe it is the meds I take that cause this to be so. Whatever the reason I am very grateful. If this helps anyone I’m all for it!! I just hate the thought of having to have seizures, they can be painful but perhaps a little pain is worth the end result?

    My issue now is still my ongoing battle with severe migraines. I’m slowly winning but as I said….it is a slow work in progress…ugh.


    Comment by Janet — April 4, 2017 @ 4:03 PM

    • 6 years seizure free! Wonderful!

      As for migraines, Research shows that Depacon (Valproate) and Topamax (Topiramate) are effective in treating migraines and epilepsy.

      And each has FDA approval for treating them together. Depakote (Divalproex Sodium) also works for both, creating a therapeutic “two-fer.”

      There are also several other anti-epileptic drugs that have also been shown to lessen migraine headaches – such as Neurontin (Gabapentin), Keppra ( Levetiracetam) and Zonegran (Zonisamide).

      However, the dose of AEDs in the treatment of migraines is usually lower than that used for epilepsy.

      Congratulations and good luck, Janet.


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — April 4, 2017 @ 5:35 PM

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    About the author

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    I've been a professional copywriter for over 35 years. I also had epilepsy for decades. My mission is advocacy; to increase education, awareness and funding for epilepsy research. Together, we can make a huge difference. If not changing the world, at least helping each other, with wisdom, compassion and sharing.

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