The Relationship Between Seizures and Spreading Depolarizations in Patients with Severe Traumatic Brain Injury

Neurocrit Care. 2022 Jun;37(Suppl 1):31-48. doi: 10.1007/s12028-022-01441-2. Epub 2022 Feb 16.


Background: Both seizures and spreading depolarizations (SDs) are commonly detected using electrocorticography (ECoG) after severe traumatic brain injury (TBI). A close relationship between seizures and SDs has been described, but the implications of detecting either or both remain unclear. We sought to characterize the relationship between these two phenomena and their clinical significance.

Methods: We performed a post hoc analysis of a prospective observational clinical study of patients with severe TBI requiring neurosurgery at five academic neurotrauma centers. A subdural electrode array was placed intraoperatively and ECoG was recorded during intensive care. SDs, seizures, and high-frequency background characteristics were quantified offline using published standards and terminology. The primary outcome was the Glasgow Outcome Scale-Extended score at 6 months post injury.

Results: There were 138 patients with valid ECoG recordings; the mean age was 47 ± 19 years, and 104 (75%) were men. Overall, 2,219 ECoG-detected seizures occurred in 38 of 138 (28%) patients in a bimodal pattern, with peak incidences at 1.7-1.8 days and 3.8-4.0 days post injury. Seizures detected on scalp electroencephalography (EEG) were diagnosed by standard clinical care in only 18 of 138 (13%). Of 15 patients with ECoG-detected seizures and contemporaneous scalp EEG, seven (47%) had no definite scalp EEG correlate. ECoG-detected seizures were significantly associated with the severity and number of SDs, which occurred in 83 of 138 (60%) of patients. Temporal interactions were observed in 17 of 24 (70.8%) patients with both ECoG-detected seizures and SDs. After controlling for known prognostic covariates and the presence of SDs, seizures detected on either ECoG or scalp EEG did not have an independent association with 6-month functional outcome but portended worse outcome among those with clustered or isoelectric SDs.

Conclusions: In patients with severe TBI requiring neurosurgery, seizures were half as common as SDs. Seizures would have gone undetected without ECoG monitoring in 20% of patients. Although seizures alone did not influence 6-month functional outcomes in this cohort, they were independently associated with electrographic worsening and a lack of motor improvement following surgery. Temporal interactions between ECoG-detected seizures and SDs were common and held prognostic implications. Together, seizures and SDs may occur along a dynamic continuum of factors critical to the development of secondary brain injury. ECoG provides information integral to the clinical management of patients with TBI.

Keywords: Continuous electroencephalography; Electrocorticography; Seizures; Spreading depolarizations; Traumatic brain injury.

Publication types

  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Brain Injuries, Traumatic* / complications
  • Brain Injuries, Traumatic* / surgery
  • Electrocorticography / adverse effects
  • Electroencephalography
  • Female
  • Glasgow Outcome Scale
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Seizures / diagnosis
  • Seizures / etiology