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Epilepsia. 1998 Jul;39(7):700-8.

Layer-specific pathways for the horizontal propagation of epileptiform discharges in neocortex.

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Department of Neuroscience, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island 02912, USA.



Epileptiform discharges that resemble interictal spikes can be generated by slices of neocortex treated with antagonists of gamma-aminobutyric acid A (GABA(A)) receptors. These discharges can propagate horizontally for long distances. We tested the hypothesis that propagation occurs through preferred horizontal pathways that lie in a particular cortical layer.


Slices were prepared from the primary somatosensory cortex of rats, maintained in vitro, and bathed with the GABA(A) receptor antagonist picrotoxin. Electrical stimuli were used to evoke single all-or-none paroxysmal field potentials (PFP) that were recorded with pairs or arrays of field potential electrodes.


To test which laminae are necessary for propagation, vertical cuts were made to force the PFP to spread horizontally through particular layers. If slices were bathed in a high dose of picrotoxin (35 microM), a bridge of cortex 350 microm thick placed at any lamina was sufficient to support PFP propagation. However, in low picrotoxin doses (2.5 microM), similarly sized bridges had to include tissue from layers 4/5 or 5/6 to support propagation. When slices were cut horizontally (i.e., parallel to the pia) in strips. either upper-, middle-, or lower-layer strips were sufficient to support PFP propagation if the picrotoxin concentration was high; however, in low picrotoxin doses, only horizontal strips that included layer 5 could support propagation. Finally, in intact picrotoxin-treated slices, focal applications of GABA were systematically applied to different laminae as the PFP propagated past; GABA was most effective at blocking or delaying propagation when it was applied to layer 5b.


We conclude that epileptiform propagation can occur through a variety of horizontal pathways when cortical inhibition is strongly impaired. However, when inhibition is reduced only moderately, axonal pathways in layer 5 are critical for seizure spread.

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