Widespread, depth-dependent cortical microstructure alterations in pediatric focal epilepsy

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OBJECTIVE: Tissue abnormalities in focal epilepsy may extend beyond the presumed focus. The underlying pathophysiology of these broader changes is unclear, and it is not known whether they result from ongoing disease processes or treatment-related side effects, or whether they emerge earlier. Few studies have focused on the period of onset for most focal epilepsies, childhood. Fewer still have utilized quantitative magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which may provide a more sensitive and interpretable measure of tissue microstructural change. Here, we aimed to determine common spatial modes of changes in cortical architecture in children with heterogeneous drug-resistant focal epilepsy and, secondarily, whether changes were related to disease severity.

METHODS: To assess cortical microstructure, quantitative T1 and T2 relaxometry (qT1 and qT2) was measured in 43 children with drug-resistant focal epilepsy (age range = 4-18 years) and 46 typically developing children (age range = 2-18 years). We assessed depth-dependent qT1 and qT2 values across the neocortex, as well as their gradient of change across cortical depths. We also determined whether global changes seen in group analyses were driven by focal pathologies in individual patients. Finally, as a proof-of-concept, we trained a classifier using qT1 and qT2 gradient maps from patients with radiologically defined abnormalities (MRI positive) and healthy controls, and tested whether this could classify patients without reported radiological abnormalities (MRI negative).

RESULTS: We uncovered depth-dependent qT1 and qT2 increases in widespread cortical areas in patients, likely representing microstructural alterations in myelin or gliosis. Changes did not correlate with disease severity measures, suggesting they may represent antecedent neurobiological alterations. Using a classifier trained with MRI-positive patients and controls, sensitivity was 71.4% at 89.4% specificity on held-out MRI-negative patients.

SIGNIFICANCE: These findings suggest the presence of a potential imaging endophenotype of focal epilepsy, detectable irrespective of radiologically identified abnormalities.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 13 Dec 2023


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