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Hoffmann, R. A wiki for the life sciences where authorship matters. Nature Genetics (2008)

Effects of epileptiform EEG discharges on cognitive function: is the concept of "transient cognitive impairment" still valid?

In this article we review the existing evidence on the cognitive impact of interictal epileptiform EEG discharges. Such cognitive impairment occurs exclusively in direct relation to episodes of epileptiform EEG discharges and must be distinguished from (post) ictal seizure effects and from the nonperiodic long-term "stable" interictal effects caused by the clinical syndrome or the underlying etiology. Especially in patients with short nonconvulsive seizures, characterized often by difficult-to-detect symptoms, the ictal or postictal effects may be overlooked and the resulting cognitive effects may be erroneously related to the epileptiform EEG discharges. The existing epidemiological data show that the prevalence of cognitive impairment during epileptiform EEG discharges is low. In one study 2.2% of the patients referred to a specialized epilepsy center for EEG recording showed a definite relationship between epileptiform EEG discharges and cognitive impairments ("transient cognitive impairment"). Several studies have sought to analyze to what extent cognitive impairment can be attributed to epileptiform EEG discharges among the other epilepsy factors (such as the effect of the clinical syndrome). These studies show that epileptiform EEG discharges have an additional and independent effect, but this effect is mild and limited to transient mechanistic cognitive processes (alertness, mental speed). This finding concurs with clinical studies that also reported only mild effects. In only exceptional cases are epileptiform EEG discharges the dominant factor explaining cognitive impairment. In addition, some studies have indicated that such mild effects may accumulate over time (when frequent epileptiform EEG discharges persist over years) and consequently result in effects on stable aspects of cognitive function such as educational achievement and intelligence. Hence, the clinical relevance is that early detection of cognitive effects of epileptiform EEG discharges and subsequent treatment may prevent a definite impact on cognitive and educational development. The disruptive effects of epileptiform EEG discharges on long-term potentiation, as established in animal experiments, may be one of the neurophysiological mechanisms underlying this accumulation. In conclusion the concept of "transient cognitive impairment" is still valid, but refinement of methodology has shown that a large proportion of presumed transient cognitive impairment can be attributed to subtle seizures, while interictal epileptic activity accounts for a much smaller part of the cognitive effects than previously thought. In particular cryptogenic partial epilepsies are associated with the risk of cognitive impairment. We hope that increased clinical awareness of this need for early detection will stimulate longitudinal and prospective research that eventually also will provide an answer to the questions of when and how epileptiform discharges that are not part of a seizure need to be treated.[1]


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