Department of Neurological Sciences, University of Vermont, College of Medicine, Burlington, Vermont, USA
Correspondence: Gregory L. Holmes
Department of Neurological Sciences,
University of Vermont College of Medicine,
Stafford Hall, Room 118C,
95 Carrigan Drive,
Burlington, Vermont 05405, USA
Cognitive impairment is a common and often devastating co-morbidity of childhood epilepsy. While the aetiology of the epilepsy is a critical determinant of cognitive outcome, there is considerable evidence from both rodent and human studies that indicate that seizures and interictal epileptiform abnormalities can contribute to cognitive impairment. A critical feature of childhood epilepsy is that the seizures and epileptiform activity occur in a brain with developing, plastic neuronal circuits. The consequences of seizures and interictal epileptiform activity in the developing brain differ from similar paroxysmal events occurring in the relatively fixed circuitry of the mature brain. In animals, it is possible to study interictal spikes independently from seizures, and it has been demonstrated that interictal spikes are as detrimental as seizures during brain development. In the clinic, distinguishing the differences between interictal spikes and seizures is more difficult, since both typically occur together. However, both seizures and interictal spikes result in transient cognitive impairment. Recurrent seizures, particularly when frequent, can lead to cognitive regression. While the clinical data linking interictal spikes to persistent cognitive impairment is limited, interictal spikes occurring during the formation and stabilization of neuronal circuits likely contribute to aberrant connectivity. There is insufficient clinical literature to indicate whether interictal spikes are more detrimental than seizures during brain development.