How can we identify ictal and interictal abnormal activity?

Adv Exp Med Biol. 2014:813:3-23. doi: 10.1007/978-94-017-8914-1_1.


The International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE) defined a seizure as "a transient occurrence of signs and/or symptoms due to abnormal excessive or synchronous neuronal activity in the brain." This definition has been used since the era of Hughlings Jackson, and does not take into account subsequent advances made in epilepsy and neuroscience research. The clinical diagnosis of a seizure is empirical, based upon constellations of certain signs and symptoms, while simultaneously ruling out a list of potential imitators of seizures. Seizures should be delimited in time, but the borders of ictal (during a seizure), interictal (between seizures) and postictal (after a seizure) often are indistinct. EEG recording is potentially very helpful for confirmation, classification and localization. About a half-dozen common EEG patterns are encountered during seizures. Clinicians rely on researchers to answer such questions as why seizures start, spread and stop, whether seizures involve increased synchrony, the extent to which extra-cortical structures are involved, and how to identify the seizure network and at what points interventions are likely to be helpful. Basic scientists have different challenges in use of the word 'seizure,' such as distinguishing seizures from normal behavior, which would seem easy but can be very difficult because some rodents have EEG activity during normal behavior that resembles spike-wave discharge or bursts of rhythmic spiking. It is also important to define when a seizure begins and stops so that seizures can be quantified accurately for pre-clinical studies. When asking what causes seizures, the transition to a seizure and differentiating the pre-ictal, ictal and post-ictal state is also important because what occurs before a seizure could be causal and may warrant further investigation for that reason. These and other issues are discussed by three epilepsy researchers with clinical and basic science expertise.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials
  • Electrodes
  • Electroencephalography
  • Epilepsy / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Monitoring, Physiologic / instrumentation