Sensory coding is impaired in rat absence epilepsy


Key points


  • Absence epilepsy is characterized by the occurrence of spike‐and‐wave discharges concomitant with an alteration of consciousness and associated with cognitive comorbidities.
  • In a genetic model of absence epilepsy in the rat, the GAERS, we showed that spike‐and‐wave discharges are initiated in the barrel field primary somatosensory cortex that codes whisker‐related information therefore playing an essential role in rodents’ interactions with their environment.
  • Sensory‐information processing is impaired in the epileptic barrel field primary somatosensory cortex of GAERS with a delayed sensory‐evoked potential and a duplicated neuronal response to whisker‐stimulation in in vivo extracellular recordings. Yet, GAERS present no defaults of performance in a texture discrimination task, suggesting the existence of a compensatory mechanism within the epileptic neuronal network.
  • Our results indicate that physiological primary functions are processed differently in an epileptic cortical network.


Several neurodevelopmental pathologies are associated with disorganized cortical circuits that may alter primary functions such as sensory processes. Here, we addressed the question whether the function of a cortical area is altered in the seizure onset zone of absence epilepsy, a prototypical form of childhood genetic epilepsy associated with cognitive impairments. We first combined in vivo multichannel electrophysiological recordings and histology to precisely localize the seizure onset zone in the genetic absence epilepsy rat from Strasbourg (GAERS). We then investigated the functionality of this epileptic zone using extracellular silicon probe recordings of sensory evoked local field potentials and multi‐unit activity, as well as a behavioral test of texture discrimination. We show that seizures in this model are initiated in the barrel field part of the primary somatosensory cortex and are associated with high‐frequency oscillations. In this cortex, we found an increased density of parvalbumin‐expressing interneurons in Layer 5 in GAERS compared to non‐epileptic Wistar rats. Its functional investigation revealed that sensory abilities of GAERS are not affected in a texture‐discrimination task while the intracortical processing of sensory‐evoked information is delayed and duplicated. Altogether, these results suggest that absence seizures are associated with an increase of parvalbumin‐inhibitory neurons that may promote the functional relation between epileptic oscillations and high frequency activities. Our findings suggest that cortical circuits operate differently in the epileptic onset zone and may adapt to maintain their ability to process highly specialized information.


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