Neocortical Slow Oscillations Implicated in the Generation of Epileptic Spasms

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Objective

Epileptic spasms are a hallmark of severe seizure disorders. The neurophysiological mechanisms and the neuronal circuit(s) that generate these seizures are unresolved and are the focus of studies reported here.

Methods

In the tetrodotoxin model, we used 16‐channel microarrays and microwires to record electrophysiological activity in neocortex and thalamus during spasms. Chemogenetic activation was used to examine the role of neocortical pyramidal cells in generating spasms. Comparisons were made to recordings from infantile spasms patients.

Results

Current source density and simultaneous multiunit activity analyses indicate that the ictal events of spasms are initiated in infragranular cortical layers. A dramatic pause of neuronal activity was recorded immediately prior to the onset of spasms. This preictal pause is shown to share many features with the down states of slow‐wave sleep. In addition, the ensuing interictal up states of slow‐wave rhythms are more intense in epileptic than control animals and occasionally appear sufficient to initiate spasms. Chemogenetic activation of neocortical pyramidal cells supported these observations since it increased slow oscillations and spasm numbers and clustering. Recordings also revealed a ramp‐up in the number of neocortical slow oscillations preceding spasms, which was also observed in infantile spasms patients.

Interpretation

Our findings provide evidence that epileptic spasms can arise from the neocortex and reveal a previously unappreciated interplay between brain state physiology and spasm generation. The identification of neocortical up states as a mechanism capable of initiating epileptic spasms will likely provide new targets for interventional therapies.

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