Epilepsy: Past, Present, and Future


Vijay M. Thadani, MD, PhD

Dr. Thadani is Professor of Neurology, Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire. He reports no conflict of interest.

As Neurology Reviews celebrates its 25th anniversary, we take this opportunity to look back and to look ahead in the area of epilepsy care and research. Epilepsy is a disease whose earliest descriptions date back to Egypt and Mesopotamia 3,000 years ago. A modern understanding of epilepsy as an electrical disorder of the brain dates back perhaps 150 years. The last 25 years have seen considerable progress in diagnosis and treatment, but in the Western world, the prevalence of epilepsy has held steady at around 1%, and a quarter of those patients have seizures that are not controlled, in spite of appropriate therapy.

Vijay M. Thadani, MD, PhD

While generalized and focal seizures remain the cornerstones of classification, the most recent theoretical advance is the network concept of epilepsy. By definition, a network must have nodes and connections. In generalized forms of epilepsy, these are recognized to be diffuse groupings of neurons and the fiber tracts that connect them. They are widely distributed and conducive to the rapid and bilateral spread of electrical abnormalities throughout the brain. In focal epilepsies, the abnormal electrical activity in the network is more constrained by traditional anatomic landmarks, but this does not preclude the possibility of secondary generalization. The elucidation of such networks by intracranial EEG and fMRI studies is a major triumph of the last 25 years.


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