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Epilepsy Res. 1992 Jul;12(2):75-86.

Genetic models of absence epilepsy, with emphasis on the WAG/Rij strain of rats.

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Department of Psychology, University of Nijmegen, Netherlands.


In this review, the main characteristics of genetic models of absence epilepsy, in particular with respect to WAG/Rij rats, are presented. Genetic models are important and relevant, since evidence exists that these models mimic spontaneously occurring human epilepsy more than models in which epilepsy is artificially induced. Genetic models can be divided into models in which seizures are elicited and into those in which epilepsy appears without any sensory stimulation. The majority of genetic models show that absence type of epilepsy; during the last few years, we and others have noticed that rats of various strains exhibit spontaneously occurring spike-wave discharges in the EEG. Among the strains highly affected is the WAG/Rij strain, which is a fully inbred strain. Individuals are homozygous and because of this property, genetic studies are meaningful. Electrophysiological studies have indicated that abnormal discharges in the cortical EEG are generalized and that the hippocampus is not involved. Parts of the thalamus, together with the thalamic reticular nucleus, apparently act as a pacemaker for the abnormal discharges. There is a circadian modulation in the number of spike-wave discharges. Discharges mainly occur during intermediate levels of vigilance such as passive wakefulness and light slow-wave sleep and at transitions of sleep states. Pharmacological studies with clinically effective antiepileptic drugs have shown a close agreement in seizure response between man and rat. Studies with new compounds have emphasized the role of the GABAergic and glutamatergic system in this type of epilepsy. Particularly striking is the role of the GABAergic system. GABA agonists enhance and GABA antagonists reduce the occurrence of spike-wave discharges, which deviates from the effects of GABAergic drugs in non-convulsive epilepsy. Even more striking is the role of the benzodiazepines, generally seen as GABA agonists; these drugs do not act as such in absence epilepsy since they reduce spike-wave discharges. Also good evidence for an involvement of other neurotransmitters such as noradrenaline, dopamine and opioid peptides exists in absence epilepsy. Genetic data obtained from the WAG/Rij model for absence epilepsy show a relatively simple pattern of inheritance with one gene determining whether an individual is epileptic or not, and with other genes regulating the number and duration of seizures. This is in good agreement with the more restricted human data. Cognitive studies have shown two important features of epilepsy in the WAG/Rij strain: modulation of the number of spike-wave discharges by mental or physical activity and on the other hand, the disruption of cognitive activity by spike-wave discharges.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS).

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