Neurology researcher and professor David Sulzer might be better known around these parts as David Soldier of such projects as the Soldier String Quartet, The Kropotkins and the Thai Elephant Orchestra. But with his PhD hat on, he spoke last night at the CUNY Graduate Center on "Brainwaves: Neuroscience and the Groove."
During the talk, he referred to "musicogenic seizures" brought on by particular pieces, or sorts of music, and referenced the case of a woman whose seizures were induced by the band Alabama. The case was written up in the journal Epilepsia in 2006. Excerpts follow, and thanks to Russell Scholl for bringing this to our attention.
Musicogenic Seizures Can Arise from Multiple Temporal Lobe Foci: Intracranial EEG Analyses of Three Patients
NeurologyTania F. Tayah,
Departments of Neurology and Radiology, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee; Department of Neurology, Columbia University, New York, New York
Summary: Purpose: To determine the ictal-onset zone of musicogenic seizures by using intracranial EEG monitoring.
Methods: Musicogenic seizures in three patients with medically intractable musicogenic epilepsy were first localized by using noninvasive methods including, in one patient, ictal magnetoencephalography (MEG) and magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS). The ictal-onset zones in these patients were then further localized using by intracranial EEG monitoring, and the outcomes of the two patients who underwent epilepsy surgery were determined.
Musicogenic epilepsy is a rare (prevalence, 1:1,000,000) epilepsy syndrome in which seizures are precipitated by music (1-5). Because the seizures are evoked by specific stimuli, musicogenic seizures represent a valuable tool in the investigation of the mechanisms of seizure initiation and of the human brain's processing of music.
Patient 1 was a right-handed 20-year-old woman. At onset (age 5 years), all seizures were musicogenic, but at the time of evaluation, less than half were definitely musicogenic. Her seizures were commonly precipitated by the popular music rhythms; rhythms from the group, Alabama, were particularly musicogenic. Her aura consisted of a rhythm she could hear in her head that quickly evolved into a musical tune followed by a fearful sensation. She typically had one seizure per day.
Patient 1 underwent a right anterior temporal lobe resection that spared the hippocampus. Postoperatively, she has been seizure free for 12 years, with the exception of one episode in which she experienced flashing lights in the left visual field after the dose of carbamazepine was reduced, a probable partial seizure that may be related to the right occipital lesion that is unrelated to the musicogenic seizures.
For further reading, Oliver Sacks' recent book Musicophilia includes many fascinating stories of unusual psychological phenomena related to playing or listening to music.