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Brain. 2010 Sep;133(9):2763-77. doi: 10.1093/brain/awq149. Epub 2010 Jun 24.

Loss and reorganization of calretinin-containing interneurons in the epileptic human hippocampus.

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Institute of Experimental Medicine, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Szigony utca 43, Budapest, Hungary.


Calretinin is expressed mainly in interneurons that specialize to innervate either principal cell dendrites or other interneurons in the human hippocampus. Calretinin-containing cells were shown to be vulnerable in animal models of ischaemia and epilepsy. In the human hippocampus, controversial data were published regarding their sensitivity in epilepsy. Therefore we aimed to reveal the fate of this cell type in human epileptic hippocampi. Surgically removed hippocampi of patients with drug-resistant temporal lobe epileptic (n = 44) were examined and compared to control (n = 8) samples with different post-mortem delays. The samples were immunostained for calretinin and the changes in the distribution, density and synaptic target selectivity of calretinin-positive cells were analysed. Control samples with post-mortem delays longer than 8 h resulted in a reduced number of immunolabelled cells compared to controls with short post-mortem delay. The number of calretinin-positive cells in the epileptic tissue was considerably decreased in correlation with the severity of principal cell loss. Preserved cells had segmented and shortened dendrites. Electron microscopic examination revealed that in controls, 23% of the calretinin-positive interneuronal terminals targeted calretinin-positive dendrites, whereas in the epileptic samples it was reduced to 3-5%. The number of contacts between calretinin-positive dendrites also dropped. The present quantitative data suggest that calretinin-containing cells in the human hippocampus are highly vulnerable, thus inhibition mediated by dendritic inhibitory cells and their synchronization by interneuron-specific interneurons may be impaired in epilepsy. We hypothesize that reorganization of the interneuron-selective cells may be implicated in the occurrence of seizures in non-sclerotic patients, where the majority of principal and non-principal cells are preserved.

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