Dynamical diseases of brain systems: different routes to epileptic seizures

IEEE Trans Biomed Eng. 2003 May;50(5):540-8. doi: 10.1109/TBME.2003.810703.


In this overview, we consider epilepsies as dynamical diseases of brain systems since they are manifestations of the property of neuronal networks to display multistable dynamics. To illustrate this concept we may assume that at least two states of the epileptic brain are possible: the interictal state characterized by a normal, apparently random, steady-state electroencephalography (EEG) ongoing activity, and the ictal state, that is characterized by paroxysmal occurrence of synchronous oscillations and is generally called, in neurology, a seizure. The transition between these two states can either occur: 1) as a continuous sequence of phases, like in some cases of mesial temporal lobe epilepsy (MTLE); or 2) as a sudden leap, like in most cases of absence seizures. In the mathematical terminology of nonlinear systems, we can say that in the first case the system's attractor gradually deforms from an interictal to an ictal attractor. The causes for such a deformation can be either endogenous or external. In this type of ictal transition, the seizure possibly may be anticipated in its early, preclinical phases. In the second case, where a sharp critical transition takes place, we can assume that the system has at least two simultaneous interictal and ictal attractors all the time. To which attractor the trajectories converge, depends on the initial conditions and the system's parameters. An essential question in this scenario is how the transition between the normal ongoing and the seizure activity takes place. Such a transition can occur either due to the influence of external or endogenous factors or due to a random perturbation and, thus, it will be unpredictable. These dynamical changes may not be detectable from the analysis of the ongoing EEG, but they may be observable only by measuring the system's response to externally administered stimuli. In the special cases of reflex epilepsy, the leap between the normal ongoing attractor and the ictal attractor is caused by a well-defined external perturbation. Examples from these different scenarios are presented and discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Electroencephalography / methods
  • Epilepsy / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetoencephalography / methods
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Nerve Net / physiopathology*
  • Neurons
  • Nonlinear Dynamics*
  • Seizures / physiopathology
  • Signal Processing, Computer-Assisted