An update on the seizures beget seizures theory

Epilepsia. 2023 Dec:64 Suppl 3:S13-S24. doi: 10.1111/epi.17721. Epub 2023 Aug 2.


Seizures beget seizures is a longstanding theory that proposed that seizure activity can impact the structural and functional properties of the brain circuits in ways that contribute to epilepsy progression and the future occurrence of seizures. Originally proposed by Gowers, this theory continues to be quoted in the pathophysiology of epilepsy. We critically review the existing data and observations on the consequences of recurrent seizures on brain networks and highlight a range of factors that speak for and against the theory. The existing literature demonstrates clearly that ictal activity, especially if recurrent, induces molecular, structural, and functional changes including cell loss, connectivity reorganization, changes in neuronal behavior, and metabolic alterations. These changes have the potential to modify the seizure threshold, contribute to disease progression, and recruit wider areas of the epileptic network into epileptic activity. Repeated seizure activity may, thus, act as a pathological positive-feedback mechanism that increases seizure likelihood. On the other hand, the time course of self-limited epilepsies and the presence of seizure remission in two thirds of epilepsy cases and various chronic epilepsy models oppose the theory. Experimental work showed that seizures could induce neural changes that increase the seizure threshold and decrease the risk of a subsequent seizure. Due to the complex nature of epilepsies, it is wrong to consider only seizures as the key factor responsible for disease progression. Epilepsy worsening can be attributed to the various forms of interictal epileptiform activity or underlying disease mechanisms. Although seizure activity can negatively impact brain structure and function, the "seizures beget seizures" theory should not be used dogmatically but with extreme caution.

Keywords: disease progression; epilepsy; epileptogenesis; kindling; seizure cluster; seizures.

MeSH terms

  • Brain
  • Disease Progression
  • Epilepsy*
  • Humans
  • Neurons
  • Seizures*