Impaired learning and memory are common in epilepsy syndromes of childhood. Clinical investigations suggest that the developing brain may be particularly vulnerable to the effects of intractable seizure disorders. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies have demonstrated reduced volumes in brain regions involved in learning and memory. The earlier the onset of an epilepsy the larger the effects seem to be on both brain anatomy and cognition. Thus, childhood epilepsy has been proposed to interfere in some unknown way with brain development. Experiments reported here explore these ideas by examining the effects of seizures in infant mice on learning and memory and on the growth of CA1 hippocampal pyramidal cell dendrites. Fifteen brief seizures were induced by flurothyl between postnatal days 7 and 11 in mice that express green fluorescent protein (GFP) in hippocampal pyramidal cells. One to 44days later, dendritic arbors were reconstructed to measure growth. Spatial learning and memory were also assessed in a water maze. Our results show that recurrent seizures produced marked deficits in learning and memory. Seizures also dramatically slowed the growth of basilar dendrites while neurons in littermate control mice continued to add new dendritic branches and lengthen existing branches. When experiments were performed in older mice, seizures had no measureable effects on either dendrite arbor complexity or spatial learning and memory. Our results suggest that the recurring seizures of intractable childhood epilepsy contribute to associated learning and memory deficits by suppressing dendrite growth.
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