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Neurology. 2002 Sep 24;59(6):841-6.

Pathophysiology of altered consciousness during seizures: Subtraction SPECT study.

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Department of Neurology, Medical College of Georgia, Augusta, GA, USA.



The mechanisms underlying altered consciousness during seizures are poorly understood. Previous clinicopathologic studies suggest a role for the thalamus and upper brainstem in consciousness mechanisms.


To examine blood flow changes associated with altered consciousness during seizures.


Seventy-one patients with epilepsy who underwent video-EEG monitoring and ictal/interictal SPECT were studied. Patients were divided into three groups depending on their conscious state during seizures: 1) complete impairment of consciousness (CI), 2) no impairment of consciousness (NI), or 3) uncertain impairment of consciousness (UI). The distribution of blood flow changes during these seizures was assessed by subtraction (ictal - interictal) SPECT co-registered to MRI. Conscious state was assessed in relation to secondary ictal hyperperfusion in subcortical regions (i.e., thalamus and upper brainstem).


Impairment of consciousness showed a strong association with secondary hyperperfusion in the thalamic/upper brainstem region (p = 0.01), occurring in 92% (45/49) of CI, 69% (9/13) of UI, and 11% (1/9) of NI.


These findings are consistent with a role for the thalamus and upper brainstem in consciousness mechanisms. The authors suggest that the spread of epileptic discharges or a trans-synaptic activation (diaschisis) of these structures is an important mechanism in the alteration of consciousness during seizures. Variance in the results may be due to differences in timing of radioisotope injection, sensitivity of the subtraction SPECT technique, and the ability to clinically assess the conscious state.

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