Genetic generalized epilepsies in adults - challenging assumptions and dogmas

Nat Rev Neurol. 2022 Feb;18(2):71-83. doi: 10.1038/s41582-021-00583-9. Epub 2021 Nov 26.


Genetic generalized epilepsy (GGE) syndromes start during childhood or adolescence, and four commonly persist into adulthood, making up 15-20% of all cases of epilepsy in adults. These four GGE syndromes are childhood absence epilepsy, juvenile absence epilepsy, juvenile myoclonic epilepsy and epilepsy with generalized tonic-clonic seizures alone. However, in ~20% of patients with GGE, characteristics of more than one syndrome are present. Novel insights into the genetic aetiology, comorbidities and prognosis of the GGE syndromes have emerged and challenge traditional concepts about these conditions. Evidence has shown that the mode of inheritance in GGE is mostly polygenic. Neuropsychological and imaging studies indicate similar abnormalities in unaffected relatives of patients with GGE, supporting the concept that underlying alterations in bilateral frontothalamocortical networks are genetically determined. Contrary to popular belief, first-line anti-seizure medication often fails to provide seizure freedom in combination with good tolerability. Nevertheless, long-term follow-up studies have shown that with advancing age, many patients can discontinue their anti-seizure medication without seizure relapses. Several outcome predictors have been identified, but prognosis across the syndromes is more homogeneous than previously assumed. Overall, overlap in pathophysiology, seizure types, treatment responses and outcomes support the idea that GGEs are not separate nosological entities but represent a neurobiological continuum.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Comorbidity
  • Electroencephalography
  • Epilepsy*
  • Epilepsy, Generalized* / drug therapy
  • Epilepsy, Generalized* / epidemiology
  • Epilepsy, Generalized* / genetics
  • Humans
  • Seizures
  • Syndrome