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Epilepsia. 2012 Jun;53 Suppl 1:67-77. doi: 10.1111/j.1528-1167.2012.03477.x.

Neuroanatomical clues to altered neuronal activity in epilepsy: from ultrastructure to signaling pathways of dentate granule cells.

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Department of Neurobiology, David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California-Los Angeles, 10833 Le Conte Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90095-1763, U.S.A.


The dynamic aspects of epilepsy, in which seizures occur sporadically and are interspersed with periods of relatively normal brain function, present special challenges for neuroanatomical studies. Although numerous morphologic changes can be identified during the chronic period, the relationship of many of these changes to seizure generation and propagation remains unclear. Mossy fiber sprouting is an example of a frequently observed morphologic change for which a functional role in epilepsy continues to be debated. This review focuses on neuroanatomically identified changes that would support high levels of activity in reorganized mossy fibers and potentially associated granule cell activation. Early ultrastructural studies of reorganized mossy fiber terminals in human temporal lobe epilepsy tissue have identified morphologic substrates for highly efficacious excitatory connections among granule cells. If similar connections in animal models contribute to seizure activity, activation of granule cells would be expected. Increased labeling with two activity-related markers, Fos and phosphorylated extracellular signal-regulated kinase, has suggested increased activity of dentate granule cells at the time of spontaneous seizures in a mouse model of epilepsy. However, neuroanatomical support for a direct link between activation of reorganized mossy fiber terminals and increased granule cell activity remains elusive. As novel activity-related markers are developed, it may yet be possible to demonstrate such functional links and allow mapping of seizure activity throughout the brain. Relating patterns of neuronal activity during seizures to the underlying morphologic changes could provide important new insights into the basic mechanisms of epilepsy and seizure generation.

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