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Whose American Life?

Seizures and the Immune System

Eeg By Kent Heckenlively, Esq.

What causes seizures?

It’s a simple question, and a profoundly important one to people like me who have a child with seizures.  The recent death of Jett Travolta from a seizure leaves parents like us feeling that may some day be our story, despite all our best efforts.  Dan Olmsted’s recent article, “The Unnatural History of Seizures” appropriately places at least some of the blame on environmental factors, but leaves unanswered the question of exactly how such seizures are caused.  However, recent research from New York University (NYU), and the Scripps Institute may answer some questions which have long eluded researchers. (“Peering Inside Skull of a Mouse to Solve Meningitis Mystery: Immune Cells Implicated in Fatal Seizures”, Science Daily, January 7, 2009)

In their series of experiments mice were infected with the lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV), a virus which is relatively harmless in humans, but which causes fatal seizures in mice.  It has been known that the virus itself did not cause the seizures, but something in the immune system’s response to the virus did.

It was known that something set off a chain of events in which the leakage of fluid from the meninges (the protective covering of the brain and spinal cord), caused a swelling which led to seizures.

Using high-tech, intravital two-photon microscopy the scientists were able to observe that T-cells, the body’s virus fighters, were doing something very unusual.  At first, the T-cells acted normally, making copies of themselves, migrating to the place where the virally-infected cells were located, but then things went awry.  Instead of attacking the virally-infected cells and sticking tightly to them, it was as if they suddenly went blind.  They didn’t attack the virally-infected cells, even though they were in close proximity.

But like a policeman called to a murder scene who can’t find a body, the T-cells called in reinforcements, specifically monocytes and neutrophils, two types of white blood cells which usually fight bacteria, not viruses.  According to the Science Daily article, “Intravital microscopy showed massive numbers of these white blood cells breaking through the walls of blood vessels into the meninges, opening the floodgates for fluid to pour out and cause swelling.”  And the swelling leads to seizures.

Problems with the immune system have long been associated with autism, but the exact mechanisms by which they cause their damage have been unclear.  The authors of the report note that if they can inhibit the monocytes and neutrophils they will be going after the root of the seizures.

I would add a few extra questions to be addressed.  What is blinding the T-cells to the
invaders in their midst? Could viruses and heavy metals have similar ways of blinding T-cells?  Why have the body’s own guardians become the destroyers of the body?  Rather than simply muting the misguided message of the T-cells to the monocytes and neutrophils it seems we should be figuring out how to restore the proper functioning of the T-cells.  We need to discover how to return the guardians to their proper role.

The lives of many children, maybe even my own, hinge on the answers to these questions.

Kent Heckenlively is Legal Editor for Age of Autism.



Thank you so much for this timely story. My 5 yr old had a febrile seizure on Tuesday, and high fever until yesterday. Her first febrile seizure was from the MMR/ Varivax reaction. She also developed absence seizures after the reaction. She has had a couple minor febrile seizures since the reaction, but this week's was more intense. All week I have been reading up on this topic.

I think many of us with younger children on the spectrum have the fear that our children will develop seizures. I only hope we can work to prevent this.

This article makes much sense, as the genetic immunodeficiencies they have found in autistic children have shown abnormalities in T Cell response/ function.

Also makes sense that why about a dozen yrs ago when I was hospitalized with a white blood cell count of 44. The doctors just shook their heads and said, it looks like you are creating wbcs, but they don't know what to do. Hence my long standing dx of idiopathic luekocytosis- high white blood cell count of unknown origin.

Cherry Sperlin Misra, I don't think you are asking too much. Thimerosal in the mice caused their immune system, especially the T Cells to malfunction, much in the same way some genetic immunodeficiencies cause the T Cells to malfunction.

Add all those assaults on the immune system before the brain is developed at age 3, and each immune response is affecting the brain adversely.

Cherry Sperlin Misra

A pertinent point may come from Dr. Isaac Pessah at U.C. Davis; His work with mice showed that even very low concentrations of thimerosal (mercury) damaged the immune system. It happened in this way : Dendritic cells are kingpins of the immune system. Each dendritic cell controls 200 to 300 T cells. When dendritic cells are affected by mercury, they first begin to send aberrant signals to the T cells and when further damaged, they cease to send signals. Perhaps T cells in the brain are unable to function normally after mercury affects their controllers. This would give bacteria and viruses that reach the brain (including those introduced thru vaccines),the opportunity to do damage. Perhaps they would be, in effect, unstoppable.
In my humble opinion, we need to call upon pediatricians to cease damaging babies immune systems through mercury laden vaccines such as flu vaccines. Am I asking too much from doctors here ?


Dee Dee, Kent is a science teacher and a lawyer - can you tell? :)

His daughter has a profound seizure disorder (as did one of my own girls.) We often talk about whether the damage to their immune systems contributes to their seizure disorder.

Thanks for commenting!

Kim, Managing Editor


this is a topic that is very important and personal to me as my son, 16, asd, has had status seizures in the last year. however, this article is too science-y for me to process.i am not unintelligent but my ability to comprehend complicated information is not strong at the moment. can someone "dumb it down" for me?
i really need to understand without thinking too hard.


I just noticed this article has a direct link from Autism Speaks in the news for 1.23.09 to Age of Autism

Kathy Blanco

Let's ask a deep and abiding question...what causes inflamation? INFECTIONS/TOXINS. Work on these, what happens? Sometimes, for a time, the inflammation goes up, because your killing off bacteria, viruses and fungi. Then when the antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal really starts to kick in *(you have to be patient, and stick with it), all the populations of bacteria killed etc, the brain is helped in both inflammation and the source of that inflammation. When treating my son's LYME/AUTISM/SEIZURE connection, I was AFRAID of long term abx's...but not anymore...especialy look into BIAXIN/MINOCYCLINE/BENICAR/VALTREX...this combo helped to stop my sons LONG STANDING seizure disorder. Anti inflammation also means, no gluten, no wheat, no soy, no corn, no MSG.

Brain inflammation in epilepsy: experimental and clinical evidence.Vezzani A, Granata T.
Department of Neuroscience, Istituto di Ricerche Farmacologiche Mario Negri, Milan, Italy. [email protected]

Inflammatory reactions occur in the brain in various CNS diseases, including autoimmune, neurodegenerative, and epileptic disorders. Proinflammatory and antiinflammatory cytokines and related molecules have been described in CNS and plasma, in experimental models of seizures and in clinical cases of epilepsy. Inflammation involves both the innate and the adaptive immune systems and shares molecules and pathways also activated by systemic infection. Experimental studies in rodents show that inflammatory reactions in the brain can enhance neuronal excitability, impair cell survival, and increase the permeability of the blood-brain barrier to blood-borne molecules and cells. Moreover, some antiinflammatory treatments reduce seizures in experimental models and, in some instances, in clinical cases of epilepsy. However, inflammatory reactions in brain also can be beneficial, depending on the tissue microenvironment, the inflammatory mediators produced in injured tissue, the functional status of the target cells, and the length of time the tissue is exposed to inflammation. We provide an overview of the current knowledge in this field and attempt to bridge experimental and clinical evidence to discuss critically the possibility that inflammation may be a common factor contributing, or predisposing, to the occurrence of seizures and cell death, in various forms of epilepsy of different etiologies. The elucidation of this aspect may open new perspectives for the pharmacologic treatment of seizures.

PMID: 16302852 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]


Thank you as always for the update.

This is really a stunning analogy for how the epidemic happened in the first place. It's as if the T cells, like pediatricians, have been bought off or blinded with disinformation, cannot perform their jobs, go after a minor infection as if it were invading hordes and put their patients at risk.

The cellular "disinformation" might have been in the form of massive, bolus viral onslaught. Perhaps when there's bits of viral DNA from vaccines in too many cells, the enemy is everywhere and nowhere.

One key to understanding this might turn out to be the fact that some children with ASD, while suffering from a virus, show an abatement of autism symptoms while other children seem to regress further. Maybe there's some difference in the way the T-cells misfire that's part of the same cycle of damage.


Thank you for this very interesting information.

I wonder if this also is a mechanism for causing autism even without seizures.

And I wonder if these T-cells are more likely to become confused/blinded when multiple viruses are injected, such as MMR and varicella and/or TDaP at the same time.


Yes, I have seen an increase in the number of children w2ith seizures, too. A girl down the road started having them after hep b series and puberty and she was previously diagnosed as having ADHD. Another child seemed to develop them at adolescence after dpt boosters as well. This has to be looked at more seriously.

Maurine Meleck

Thanks for this; it's such an informative read. It's also something that deeply concerns me at thae moment since the prospect of developing seizures increases when with autism when a child reaches the age of puberty.Like autism itself, the numbers of children with seizures is ever increasing. I have two firends with children diagnosed solely with ADHD that recenly have experienced absence seizures.

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