Extent of Single-Neuron Activity Modulation by Hippocampal Interictal Discharges Predicts Declarative Memory Disruption in Humans

J Neurosci. 2020 Jan 15;40(3):682-693. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1380-19.2019. Epub 2019 Nov 21.


Memory deficits are common in epilepsy patients. In these patients, the interictal EEG commonly shows interictal epileptiform discharges (IEDs). While IEDs are associated with transient cognitive impairments, it remains poorly understood why this is. We investigated the effects of human (male and female) hippocampal IEDs on single-neuron activity during a memory task in patients with medically refractory epilepsy undergoing depth electrode monitoring. We quantified the effects of hippocampal IEDs on single-neuron activity and the impact of this modulation on subjectively declared memory strength. Across all recorded neurons, the activity of 50 of 728 neurons were significantly modulated by IEDs, with the strongest modulation in the medial temporal lobe (33 of 416) and in particular the right hippocampus (12 of 58). Putative inhibitory neurons, as identified by their extracellular signature, were more likely to be modulated by IEDs than putative excitatory neurons (19 of 157 vs 31 of 571). Behaviorally, the occurrence of hippocampal IEDs was accompanied by a disruption of recognition of familiar images only if they occurred up to 2 s before stimulus onset. In contrast, IEDs did not impair encoding or recognition of novel images, indicating high temporal and task specificity of the effects of IEDs. The degree of modulation of individual neurons by an IED correlated with the declared confidence of a retrieval trial, with higher firing rates indicative of reduced confidence. Together, these data link the transient modulation of individual neurons by IEDs to specific declarative memory deficits in specific cell types, thereby revealing a mechanism by which IEDs disrupt medial temporal lobe-dependent declarative memory retrieval processes.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Interictal epileptiform discharges (IEDs) are thought to be a cause of memory deficits in chronic epilepsy patients, but the underlying mechanisms are not understood. Utilizing single-neuron recordings in epilepsy patients, we found that hippocampal IEDs transiently change firing of hippocampal neurons and disrupted selectively the retrieval, but not encoding, of declarative memories. The extent of the modulation of the individual firing of hippocampal neurons by an IED predicted the extent of reduction of subjective retrieval confidence. Together, these data reveal a specific kind of transient cognitive impairment caused by IEDs and link this impairment to the modulation of the activity of individual neurons. Understanding the mechanisms by which IEDs impact memory is critical for understanding memory impairments in epilepsy patients.

Keywords: declarative memory; episodic memory; hippocampus; human-single neuron; interictal epileptic discharges; intracranial.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Electroencephalography
  • Epilepsy, Temporal Lobe
  • Female
  • Hippocampus / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Memory Disorders / psychology*
  • Mental Recall
  • Middle Aged
  • Neurons*
  • Recognition, Psychology
  • Seizures / physiopathology*
  • Seizures / psychology*
  • Temporal Lobe / physiopathology
  • Young Adult