Juvenile myoclonic epilepsy and idiopathic photosensitive occipital lobe epilepsy: is there overlap?

Brain. 2004 Aug;127(Pt 8):1878-86. doi: 10.1093/brain/awh211. Epub 2004 Jun 16.


Although epileptic photosensitivity is well known, its genetics and syndromic associations are incompletely understood. Seizures triggered by photic stimulation are usually a manifestation of the idiopathic generalized epilepsies, especially juvenile myoclonic epilepsy (JME), or of the occipital epilepsies. Idiopathic photosensitive occipital epilepsy (IPOE) is a focal epilepsy with colourful elementary visual auras, often with conscious tonic head and eye version; myoclonus is not a feature. All seizures are induced by photic stimuli. We describe four families with phenotypic overlap between JME and IPOE. Families were identified if two or more affected individuals had visual auras and electro-clinical features of an idiopathic epilepsy. Family members underwent detailed electro-clinical assessment. In addition, 40 unrelated JME probands were investigated systematically for unrecognized features of IPOE (visual aura and conscious head version). There were 12 affected individuals in four families; 11 were female. Clinical onset was at 8-21 years of age. Of 10 patients with visual auras, six had conscious head version and five also experienced myoclonic jerks; eight had non-photic induced tonic-clonic seizures (TCS). Of the remaining individuals, one had myoclonic jerks and occipital spikes; the other had TCS without visual aura or myoclonic jerks. Of 10 patients with EEG studies, eight had generalized spike and wave (GSW) and six had occipital spikes. All had photosensitivity with GSW and four had additional occipital spikes. Of the 40 JME probands, six had visual aura and/or conscious head version; five of these were photosensitive. There is overlap between the clusters of clinical features used to diagnose IPOE and JME. Half of the affected individuals in our families with visual aura had myoclonic jerks; the former is characteristic of IPOE and the latter of JME. Importantly, visual aura is not regarded as part of JME, nor myoclonus part of IPOE, but our data emphasize that these symptoms may occur in both disorders. Moreover, two-thirds of individuals with visual aura had spontaneous TCS; the latter feature is not described in IPOE. Additionally, we demonstrate that visual aura and conscious head version are under-recognized features of JME, particularly among photosensitive patients. These findings could be explained by shared genetic determinants underlying IPOE and JME. Understanding the genetic basis of these disorders must account for the striking female predominance, the variable phenotypes associated with photosensitivity and the overlap of clinical features classically regarded as distinguishing focal and generalized syndromes.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Epilepsy, Reflex / diagnosis
  • Epilepsy, Reflex / etiology
  • Epilepsy, Reflex / genetics*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Myoclonic Epilepsy, Juvenile / diagnosis
  • Myoclonic Epilepsy, Juvenile / genetics*
  • Occipital Lobe*
  • Pedigree
  • Phenotype
  • Photic Stimulation / adverse effects*