Spike and wave discharges are not pathological sleep spindles – network-level aspects of age dependent absence seizure development in rats

Spike-and-wave discharges (SWDs) of absence epilepsy are considered as pathologic alterations of sleep spindles; however, their network-level relationship has never been convincingly revealed. In order to observe the development and generalization of the thalamocortical SWDs and the concomitant alterations of sleep related oscillations, we performed local field potential (LFP) and single unit recordings in rats for three months during their maturation. We found that while SWDs and spindles look similar in young, they become different with maturation and shift to appear in different brain states. Thus, despite being generated by the same network, they are likely two distinct manifestations of the thalamocortical activity. We show that while spindles are already mainly global oscillations, SWDs appear mainly only focally in young. They become capable to generalize later with maturation, when the out-of-focus brain regions develop a decreased inhibitory/excitatory balance. These results suggest that a hyperexcitable focus is not sufficient alone to drive generalized absence seizures. Importantly, we also found the gradual age dependent disappearance of sleep spindles coinciding with the simultaneous gradual emergence of spike and waves, which both could be reversed by the proper dosing of ethosuximide (ETX). Based on these observations we conclude that the absence seizure development might be a multi-step process, which might involve the functional impairment of cortical interneurons and network-level changes that negatively affect sleep quality.