Distinct white matter abnormalities in different idiopathic generalized epilepsy syndromes

Epilepsia. 2011 Dec;52(12):2267-75. doi: 10.1111/j.1528-1167.2011.03313.x. Epub 2011 Nov 16.


Purpose: By definition idiopathic generalized epilepsy (IGE) is not associated with structural abnormalities on conventional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). However, recent quantitative studies suggest white and gray matter alterations in IGE. The purpose of this study was to investigate whether there are white and/or gray matter structural differences between controls and two subsets of IGE, namely juvenile myoclonic epilepsy (JME) and IGE with generalized tonic-clonic seizures only (IGE-GTC).

Methods: We assessed white matter integrity and gray matter volume using diffusion tensor tractography-based analysis of fractional anisotropy and voxel-based morphometry, respectively, in 25 patients with IGE, all of whom had experienced generalized tonic-clonic convulsions. Specifically, 15 patients with JME and 10 patients with IGE-GTC were compared to two groups of similarly matched controls separately. Correlations between total lifetime generalized tonic-clonic seizures and fractional anisotropy were investigated for both groups.

Key findings: Tractography revealed lower fractional anisotropy in specific tracts including the crus of the fornix, body of corpus callosum, uncinate fasciculi, superior longitudinal fasciculi, anterior limb of internal capsule, and corticospinal tracts in JME with respect to controls, whereas there were no fractional anisotropy differences in IGE-GTC. No correlation was found between fractional anisotropy and total lifetime generalized tonic-clonic seizures for either JME or IGE-GTC. Although false discovery rate-corrected voxel-based morphometry (VBM) showed no gray matter volume differences between patient and control groups, spatial extent cluster-corrected VBM analysis suggested a trend of gray matter volume reduction in frontal and central regions in both patient groups, more lateral in JME and more medial in IGE-GTC.

Significance: The findings support the idea that the clinical syndromes of JME and IGE-GTC have unique anatomic substrates. The fact that the primary clinical difference between JME and IGE-GTC is the occurrence of myoclonus in the former raises the possibility that disruption of white matter integrity may be the underlying mechanism responsible for myoclonus in JME. The cross-sectional study design and relatively small number of subjects limits the conclusions that can be drawn here; however, the absence of a correlation between fractional anisotropy and lifetime seizures is suggestive that the white matter abnormalities observed in JME may not be secondary to seizures.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Anisotropy
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Corpus Callosum / pathology
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging
  • Epilepsy, Generalized / pathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Myoclonic Epilepsy, Juvenile / pathology*
  • Nerve Fibers, Myelinated / pathology*
  • Young Adult