Generalized epileptic discharges show thalamocortical activation and suspension of the default state of the brain

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005 Oct 18;102(42):15236-40. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0504935102. Epub 2005 Oct 10.


Our objective was to evaluate the brain regions showing increased and decreased metabolism in patients at the time of generalized bursts of epileptic discharges in order to understand their mechanism of generation and effect on brain function. By recording the electroencephalogram during the functional MRI, changes in the blood oxygenation level-dependent signal were obtained in response to epileptic discharges observed in the electroencephalogram of 15 patients with idiopathic generalized epilepsy. A group analysis was performed to determine the regions of positive (activation) and negative (deactivation) blood oxygenation level-dependent responses that were common to the patients. Activations were found bilaterally and symmetrically in the thalamus, mesial midfrontal region, insulae, and midline and bilateral cerebellum and on the borders of the lateral ventricles. Deactivations were bilateral and symmetrical in the anterior frontal and parietal regions and in the posterior cingulate gyri and were seen in the left posterior temporal region. Activations in thalamus and midfrontal regions confirm known involvement of these regions in the generation or spread of generalized epileptic discharges. Involvement of the insulae in generalized discharges had not previously been described. Cerebellar activation is not believed to reflect the generation of discharges. Deactivations in frontal and parietal regions remarkably followed the pattern of the default state of brain function. Thalamocortical activation and suspension of the default state may combine to cause the actual state of reduced responsiveness observed in patients during spike-and-wave discharges. This brief lapse of responsiveness may therefore not result only from the epileptic discharge but also from its effect on normal brain function.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cerebral Cortex / anatomy & histology
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Epilepsy, Generalized / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Middle Aged
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Thalamus / anatomy & histology
  • Thalamus / physiology*


  • Oxygen