Severe childhood epilepsy is commonly associated with intellectual developmental disabilities. The reasons for these cognitive deficits are likely multifactorial and will vary between epilepsy syndromes and even among children with the same syndrome. However, one factor these children have in common is the recurring seizures they experience - sometimes on a daily basis. Supporting the idea that the seizures themselves can contribute to intellectual disabilities are laboratory results demonstrating spatial learning and memory deficits in normal mice and rats that have experienced recurrent seizures in infancy. Studies reviewed here have shown that seizures in vivo and electrographic seizure activity in vitro both suppress the growth of hippocampal pyramidal cell dendrites. A simplification of dendritic arborization and a resulting decrease in the number and/or properties of the excitatory synapses on them could help explain the observed cognitive disabilities. There are a wide variety of candidate mechanisms that could be involved in seizure-induced growth suppression. The challenge is designing experiments that will help focus research on a limited number of potential molecular events. Thus far, results suggest that growth suppression is NMDA receptor-dependent and associated with a decrease in activation of the transcription factor CREB. The latter result is intriguing since CREB is known to play an important role in dendrite growth. Seizure-induced dendrite growth suppression may not occur as a single process in which pyramidal cells dendrites simply stop growing or grow slower compared to normal neurons. Instead, recent results suggest that after only a few hours of synchronized epileptiform activity in vitro dendrites appear to partially retract. This acute response is also NMDA receptor dependent and appears to be mediated by the Ca(+2)/calmodulin-dependent phosphatase, calcineurin. An understanding of the staging of seizure-induced growth suppression and the underlying molecular mechanisms will likely prove crucial for developing therapeutic strategies aimed at ameliorating the intellectual developmental disabilities associated with intractable childhood epilepsy.
Keywords: Epilepsy; Epileptiform activity; Hippocampus; Learning; Memory.
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