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Epilepsia. 2016 Feb;57(2):252-62. doi: 10.1111/epi.13281. Epub 2015 Dec 25.

Effects of prenatal antiepileptic drug exposure on newborn brain activity.

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Department of Pediatric Neurology, University of Helsinki and Helsinki University Hospital, Helsinki, Finland.
Department of Biosciences, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland.
Department of Children's Clinical Neurophysiology, HUS Medical Imaging Center, Helsinki University Hospital and University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland.
Institute of Behavioral Sciences, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland.
Clinical Neurosciences, Neurology, University of Helsinki and Helsinki University Hospital, Helsinki, Finland.



Prenatal exposure to antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) is associated with an increased risk of cognitive dysfunction at early school age. Our aim was to investigate whether signs of adverse drug effects on brain function could be detected already during the first 2 weeks of life.


We studied prospectively 56 full-term newborns with prenatal exposure to AEDs and 67 unexposed newborns for the following characteristics: Background information, AED exposure data, pregnancy outcome, neuropsychological evaluation of the mothers, clinical neurologic status with Hammersmith Neonatal Neurological Examination and early cortical activity using electroencephalography (EEG). For EEG assessment, we developed and provide automated quantitation algorithms of several earlier described features: oscillatory bouts at theta and alpha frequencies, frequency spectra, interhemispheric synchrony, and interburst intervals (IBIs).


The AED-exposed newborns had lower limb and axial tone and were less irritable than the unexposed newborns. EEG assessment disclosed significant differences in alpha bouts, in the frequency spectra, as well as in the spatial distributions of interhemispheric synchrony and IBIs.


The results indicate that fetal AED exposure may affect early neonatal neurologic status and several features of early cortical activity. The findings suggest that interference of activity-dependent network development may be a possible mechanism to explain the link from fetal AED exposure to later neurocognitive sequelae.


EEG; Epilepsy; Neonatal; Pregnancy

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