Transcranial magnetic stimulation as a tool to understand genetic conditions associated with epilepsy

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Abstract

Advances in genetics may enable a deeper understanding of disease mechanisms and promote a shift to more personalised medicine in the epilepsies. At present, understanding of consequences of genetic variants mainly relies on preclinical functional work; tools for acquiring similar data from the living human brain are needed. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), in particular paired‐pulse TMS protocols which depend on the function of cortical GABAergic interneuron networks, has the potential to become such a tool. For this report, we identified and reviewed 23 publications on TMS studies of cortical excitability and inhibition in 15 different genes or conditions relevant to epilepsy. Reduced short‐interval intracortical inhibition (SICI) and reduced cortical silent period (CSP) duration were the most commonly reported findings, suggesting abnormal GABAA‐ (SICI) or GABABergic (CSP) signalling. For several conditions, these findings are plausible based on established evidence of involvement of the GABAergic system; for some others, they may inform future research around such mechanisms. Challenges of TMS include lack of complete understanding of the neural underpinnings of the measures used: hypotheses and analyses should be based on existing clinical and preclinical data. Further pitfalls include gathering sufficient numbers of participants, and the effect of confounding factors, especially medications. TMS‐EEG is a unique perturbational technique to study the intrinsic properties of the cortex with excellent temporal resolution; while it has the potential to provide further information of use in interpreting effects of genetic variants, currently the links between measures and neurophysiology are less established. Despite these challenges, TMS is a tool with potential for elucidating the system‐level in vivo functional consequences of genetic variants in people carrying genetic changes of interest, providing unique insights.

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