Spatial learning deficits without hippocampal neuronal loss in a model of early-onset epilepsy

Neuroscience. 2001;107(1):71-84. doi: 10.1016/s0306-4522(01)00327-x.


Studies were undertaken to examine the effects recurrent early-life seizures have on the ability of rats to acquire spatial memories in adulthood. A minute quantity of tetanus toxin was injected unilaterally into the hippocampus on postnatal day 10. Within 48 h, rats developed recurrent seizures that persisted for 1 week. Between postnatal days 57 and 61, rats were trained in a Morris water maze. Toxin-injected rats were markedly deficient in learning this task. While these rats showed gradual improvement in escape latencies over 20 trials, their performance always lagged behind that of controls. Poor performance could not be explained by motor impairments or motivational difficulties since swimming speed was similar for the groups. Only eight of 16 toxin-injected animals showed focal interictal spikes in the hippocampus during electroencephalographic recordings. This suggests that learning deficiencies and chronic epilepsy may be independent products of recurrent early-life seizures. A quantitative analysis of hippocampus revealed a significant decrease in neuronal density in stratum pyramidale of experimental rats. However, the differences were largely explained by a concomitant increase in the area of stratum pyramidale. Studies of glial fibrillary acidic protein expression and spread of horseradish peroxidase-conjugated tetanus toxin in the hippocampus suggest that the dispersion of cell bodies in stratum pyramidale can neither be explained by a reactive gliosis nor the direct action of the toxin itself. Taken together, we suggest that recurrent seizures beginning in early life can lead to a significant deficiency in spatial learning without ongoing hippocampal synchronized network discharging or a substantial loss of hippocampal pyramidal cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Age of Onset
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Axonal Transport / drug effects
  • Axonal Transport / physiology
  • Cell Count
  • Child
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Electroencephalography / drug effects
  • Epilepsy / complications*
  • Epilepsy / pathology
  • Epilepsy / physiopathology
  • Glial Fibrillary Acidic Protein / metabolism
  • Hippocampus / pathology
  • Hippocampus / physiopathology*
  • Horseradish Peroxidase
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Learning Disabilities / etiology*
  • Learning Disabilities / pathology
  • Learning Disabilities / physiopathology
  • Maze Learning / drug effects
  • Maze Learning / physiology*
  • Memory / drug effects
  • Memory / physiology
  • Memory Disorders / etiology
  • Memory Disorders / pathology
  • Memory Disorders / physiopathology
  • Nerve Degeneration / etiology*
  • Nerve Degeneration / pathology
  • Nerve Degeneration / physiopathology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Seizures / chemically induced
  • Seizures / pathology
  • Seizures / physiopathology
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Tetanus Toxin / metabolism
  • Tetanus Toxin / pharmacology


  • Glial Fibrillary Acidic Protein
  • Tetanus Toxin
  • Horseradish Peroxidase