Purpose: To study the differential expression of excitatory amino acid transporters (EAATs) at localized epileptic foci compared to nonepileptic regions in human neocortical epilepsy. Decreased expression of EAATs, the predominant mechanism to remove synaptic-released glutamate, may explain mechanisms of heightened excitability at these epileptic foci.
Methods: The differential expression of EAAT1-4 at the mRNA and protein levels was measured in electrically mapped human neocortical tissues using quantitative real-time PCR and immunoblotting. This required a novel way to prevent aggregation of EAAT proteins through cold solubilization. Layer-specific neuronal densities were measured to control for potential differences in neuronal density.
Results: While focal epileptic brain regions show marked increases in immediate early genes, they have significant reductions in the neuronal glutamate transporter mRNAs (EAAT3 and EAAT4). These changes were not associated with changes in relative neuronal density, suggesting a reduction in EAAT mRNA per neuron. Immunohistochemical staining of epileptic human neocortex confirmed the presence of EAAT1 and EAAT2 proteins in astroglial cells and EAAT3 and EAAT4 proteins in human cortical neurons. At the protein level, western blots of the same epileptic and nonepileptic regions for a subset of these patients showed a similar decrease of EAAT3 and EAAT4. Despite no change in EAAT2 mRNA, EAAT2 protein expression was significantly reduced at epileptic foci.
Conclusion: Regional reductions in EAAT expression at human neocortical epileptic foci could produce increased local glutamate levels that in turn may contribute to both hyperexcitability and the spontaneous generation of epileptic discharges that characterize human epileptic foci.