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Brainstem kindling: seizure development and functional consequences




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This dissertation explores the role of brainstem structures in the development and expression of generalized tonic-clonic seizures. The functional consequences of brainstem seizures are investigated using the kindling paradigm in order to understand the behavioral and cognitive effects of generalized seizures. I begin by investigating the general characteristics of brainstem kindling. The first experiment demonstrates that certain brainstem sites are indeed susceptible to kindling and begins to delineate the features that distinguish brainstem seizures from those evoked at other brain regions. Further investigation of the EEG signal features using wavelet analysis reveals that changes in the spectral properties of the electrographic activity during kindling include significant changes to high-frequency activity and organized low-frequency activity. I also identify transitions that include frequency sweeps and abrupt seizure terminations. The changing spectral features are shown to be critically associated with the evolution of the kindled seizures and may have important functional consequences. The surprising responsiveness of some brainstem structures to kindling forces us to reconsider the overall role of these structures in epileptogenesis as well as in the healthy dynamical functioning of the brain. In order to study the functional consequences, a series of experiments examines the changes in behavior, cognition and affect that follow these brainstem seizures. Although the results show no effects on spatial learning or memory, there are significant and complex effects on anxiety- and depression-like behavior that appear to be related to motivation. In order to further study the cognitive effects, a second set of behavioral experiments considers how context (i.e., the environment) interacts with the behavioral changes. The results indicate that changes in affect may only be apparent when choice between seizure-related and seizure-free contexts is given, suggesting that the environment and choice can play key roles in the behavioral consequences of seizures. This thesis also includes an appendix that applies synchrotron imaging to investigate the anatomical consequences of electrode implantation in kindling and shows that significantly increased iron depositions occur even with purportedly biocompatible electrodes widely used in research and clinical settings. Examination of the role of brainstem structures in generalized seizures in this dissertation offers new perspectives and insights to epileptogenesis and the behavioral effects of epilepsy. The changes in EEG features, behavior, affect and motivation observed after brainstem seizures and kindling may have important clinical implications. For example, the results suggest a need to reexamine the concept of psychogenic seizures, a potential connection to Sudden Unexplained Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP), and the contribution of environmental factors. It is hoped that these findings will help elucidate the complex issues involved in understanding and improving the quality of life for people with epilepsy.



x-ray fluorescence, sudden unexplained death in epilepsy (SUDEP), wavelet analysis, synchrotron, seizure, periaqueductal grey (PAG), psychogenic seizure, mesencephalic reticular formation (MRF), learning and memory, kindling, epileptogenesis, electroencephalography (EEG), conditioning, epilepsy, context, chirps, anxiety, brainstem, afterdischarge (AD)



Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Anatomy and Cell Biology


Anatomy and Cell Biology


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