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Epilepsy drugs 'risk schizophrenia'

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Young people who take drugs to control epilepsy in early life may be at risk of developing schizophrenia when they are older, according to new research.

Researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center, Washington, studied the effect anti-epileptic drug (AED) treatment on animals in a laboratory. They found that if given at certain points in brain development, the drugs increased schizophrenia-like behaviour later.

Schizophrenia has previously been linked to having seizures in infancy, but it was unknown whether this was because of the seizures themselves or the drugs used to control them.

Guillermo Palchik, a doctoral student at the centre’s paediatric department, said: “We know that early-life exposure to AEDs such as Phenobarbital triggers cell death in many brain regions associated with the onset of schizophrenia.

“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 research was presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in Chicago.

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