Stress is the most commonly reported precipitating factor for seizures in patients with epilepsy. Despite compelling anecdotal evidence for stress-induced seizures, animal models of the phenomena are sparse and possible mechanisms are unclear. Here, we tested the hypothesis that increased levels of the stress-associated hormone corticosterone (CORT) would increase epileptiform activity and spontaneous seizure frequency in mice rendered epileptic following pilocarpine-induced status epilepticus. We monitored video-EEG activity in pilocarpine-treated mice 24/7 for a period of four or more weeks, during which animals were serially treated with CORT or vehicle. CORT increased the frequency and duration of epileptiform events within the first 24 hours of treatment, and this effect persisted for up to two weeks following termination of CORT injections. Interestingly, vehicle injection produced a transient spike in CORT levels – presumably due to the stress of injection – and a modest but significant increase in epileptiform activity. Neither CORT nor vehicle treatment significantly altered seizure frequency; although a small subset of animals did appear responsive. Taken together, our findings indicate that treatment of epileptic animals with exogenous CORT designed to mimic chronic stress can induce a persistent increase in interictal epileptiform activity.
During the development of epilepsy in adult animals, newly-generated granule cells integrate abnormally into the hippocampus. These new cells migrate to ectopic locations in the hilus, develop aberrant basal dendrites, contribute to mossy fiber sprouting and exhibit changes in apical dendrite structure and dendritic spine number. Mature granule cells do not appear to exhibit migration defects, basal dendrites and mossy fiber sprouting, but whether they exhibit apical dendrite abnormalities or spine changes is not known. To address these questions, we examined the apical dendritic structure of BrdU-birthdated, GFP-expressing granule cells born two months before pilocarpine-induced status epilepticus. In contrast to immature granule cells, exposing mature granule cells to status epilepticus did not significantly disrupt the branching structure of their apical dendrites. Mature granule cells did, however, exhibit significant reductions in spine density and spine number relative to age-matched cells from control animals. These data demonstrate that while mature granule cells are resistant to developing the gross structural abnormalities exhibited by younger granule cells, they show similar plastic rearrangement of their dendritic spines.
Deletion of the mTOR pathway inhibitor PTEN from postnatally-generated hippocampal dentate granule cells causes epilepsy. Here, we conducted field potential, whole cell recording and single cell morphology studies to begin to elucidate the mechanisms by which granule cell-specific PTEN-loss produces disease. Cells from both male and female mice were recorded to identify sex-specific effects. PTEN knockout granule cells showed altered intrinsic excitability, evident as a tendency to fire in bursts. PTEN knockout granule cells also exhibited increased frequency of spontaneous excitatory synaptic currents (sEPSCs) and decreased frequency of inhibitory currents (sIPSCs), further indicative of a shift towards hyperexcitability. Morphological studies of PTEN knockout granule cells revealed larger dendritic trees, more dendritic branches and an impairment of dendrite self-avoidance. Finally, cells from both female control and female knockout mice received more sEPSCs and more sIPSCs than corresponding male cells. Despite the difference, the net effect produced statistically equivalent EPSC/IPSC ratios. Consistent with this latter observation, extracellularly evoked responses in hippocampal slices were similar between male and female knockouts. Both groups of knockouts were abnormal relative to controls. Together, these studies reveal a host of physiological and morphological changes among PTEN knockout cells likely to underlie epileptogenic activity.
Growing evidence implicates the dentate gyrus in temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE). Dentate granule cells limit the amount of excitatory signaling through the hippocampus and exhibit striking neuroplastic changes that may impair this function during epileptogenesis. Furthermore, aberrant integration of newly-generated granule cells underlies the majority of dentate restructuring. Recently, attention has focused on the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) signaling pathway as a potential mediator of epileptogenic change. Systemic administration of the mTOR inhibitor rapamycin has promising therapeutic potential, as it has been shown to reduce seizure frequency and seizure severity in rodent models. Here, we tested whether mTOR signaling facilitates abnormal development of granule cells during epileptogenesis. We also examined dentate inflammation and mossy cell death in the dentate hilus. To determine if mTOR activation is necessary for abnormal granule cell development, transgenic mice that harbored fluorescently-labeled adult-born granule cells were treated with rapamycin following pilocarpine-induced status epilepticus. Systemic rapamycin effectively blocked phosphorylation of S6 protein (a readout of mTOR activity) and reduced granule cell mossy fiber axon sprouting. However, the accumulation of ectopic granule cells and granule cells with aberrant basal dendrites was not significantly reduced. Mossy cell death and reactive astrocytosis were also unaffected. These data suggest that anti-epileptogenic effects of mTOR inhibition may be mediated by mechanisms other than inhibition of these common dentate pathologies. Consistent with this conclusion, rapamycin prevented pathological weight gain in epileptic mice, suggesting that rapamycin might act on central circuits or even peripheral tissues controlling weight gain in epilepsy.
Dysregulation of the mTOR-signaling pathway is implicated in the development of temporal lobe epilepsy. In mice, deletion of PTEN from hippocampal dentate granule cells leads to mTOR hyperactivation and promotes the rapid onset of spontaneous seizures. The mechanism by which these abnormal cells initiate epileptogenesis, however, is unclear. PTEN-knockout granule cells develop abnormally, exhibiting morphological features indicative of increased excitatory input. If these cells are directly responsible for seizure genesis, it follows that they should also possess increased output. To test this prediction, dentate granule cell axon morphology was quantified in control and PTEN-knockout mice. Unexpectedly, PTEN deletion increased giant mossy fiber bouton spacing along the axon length, suggesting reduced innervation of CA3. Increased width of the mossy fiber axon pathway in stratum lucidum, however, which likely reflects an unusual increase in mossy fiber axon collateralization in this region, offset the reduction in boutons per axon length. These morphological changes predicts a net increase in granule cell >> CA3 innervation. Increased diameter of axons from PTEN-knockout cells would further enhance granule cell >> CA3 communication. Altogether, these findings suggest that amplified information flow through the hippocampal circuit contributes to seizure occurrence in the PTEN-knockout mouse model of temporal lobe epilepsy.
Acoustically evoked seizures (e.g., audiogenic seizures or AGS) are common in models of inherited epilepsy and occur in a variety of species including rat, mouse, and hamster. Two models that have been particularly well studied are the genetically epilepsy prone rat (GEPR-3) and the Wistar Audiogenic Rat (WAR) strains. Acute and repeated AGS, as well as comorbid conditions, displays a close phenotypic overlap in these models. Whether these similarities arise from convergent or divergent structural changes in the brain remains unknown. Here, we examined the brain structure of Sprague Dawley (SD) and Wistar (WIS) rats, and quantified changes in the GEPR-3 and WAR, respectively. Brains from adult, male rats of each strain (n=8-10 per group) were collected, fixed, and embedded in agar and imaged using a 7 tesla Bruker MRI. Post-acquisition analysis included voxel-based morphometry (VBM), diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), and manual volumetric tracing. In the VBM analysis, GEPR-3 displayed volumetric changes in brainstem structures known to be engaged by AGS (e.g., superior and inferior colliculus, periaqueductal grey) and in forebrain structures (e.g., striatum, septum, nucleus accumbens). WAR displayed volumetric changes in superior colliculus, and a broader set of limbic regions (e.g., hippocampus, amygdala/piriform cortex). The only area of significant overlap in the two strains was the midline cerebellum: both GEPR-3 and WAR showed decreased volume compared to their control strains. In the DTI analysis, GEPR-3 displayed decreased fractional anisotropy (FA) in the corpus callosum, posterior commissure and commissure of the inferior colliculus (IC). WAR displayed increased FA only in the commissure of IC. These data provide a biological basis for further comparative and mechanistic studies in the GEPR-3 and WAR models, as well as provide additional insight into commonalities in the pathways underlying AGS susceptibility and behavioral comorbidity.
Childhood absence epilepsy (CAE) is the most common pediatric epilepsy syndrome and is characterized by typical absence seizures (AS). AS are non-convulsive epileptic seizures characterized by a sudden loss of awareness and bilaterally generalized synchronous 2.5-4 Hz spike and slow-wave discharges (SWD). Gamma butyrolactone (GBL) is an acute pharmacological model of AS and induces bilaterally synchronous SWDs and behavioral arrest. Despite the long use of this model, little is known about its strain and sex-dependent features. We compared the dose-response profile of GBL-evoked SWDs in three rat strains (Long Evans, Sprague-Dawley, and Wistar), and examined the modulatory effects of estrous cycle on SWDs in female Wistar rats. We evaluated the number of seizures, the cumulative time seizing, and the average seizure duration as a function of dose, strain, and sex/estrous phase. Long Evans rats displayed the greatest sensitivity to GBL, followed by Wistar rats, and then by Sprague-Dawley rats. GBL-evoked SWDs were modulated by estrous cycle in female rats, with the lowest sensitivity to GBL occurring during metestrus. Wistar rats showed the greatest variability as a function of dose, and the least variability within dose; these features make this strain desirable for interventional studies. Moreover, our finding that the SWD response to GBL differs as a function of estrous cycle underscores the importance of cycle monitoring in studies examining female animals using this model. Together, these strain and sex-dependent findings provide guidance for future studies.
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