Increased Excitability and Decreased Sensitivity to GABA in an Animal Model of Dysplastic Cortex


Address correspondence and reprint requests to Dr. Arnold R. Kriegstein at Department of Neurology, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, 630 W. 168 St., New York, NY 10032, U.S.A. E-mail:


Summary:  Purpose: Cortical dysplasia (CD) is associated with epilepsy in both the pediatric and adult populations. The mechanism underlying seizures with cortical malformations is still poorly understood. To study the physiology of dysplastic cortex, we developed an experimental model of CD.

Methods: Pregnant rats were given intraperitoneal injections of carmustine (1-3-bis-chloroethyl-nitrosourea; BCNU) on embryonic day 15 (E15). Cortical histology was examined in the resulting pups at P0, P28, and P60. In addition, evoked and spontaneous field potential recordings were obtained in cortical slices from adult control and BCNU-exposed rats. Finally, we used whole-cell recordings to compare physiologic properties of pyramidal neurons and γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) responses in control and BCNU-treated animals.

Results: Features characteristic of CD were found in the offspring, including laminar disorganization, cytomegalic neurons, and neuronal heterotopias. Dysplastic cortex also contained abnormal clusters of Cajal–Retzius (CR) cells and disruption of radial glial fibers, as demonstrated with immunohistochemistry. Under conditions of partial GABAA-receptor blockade with 10 μM bicuculline methiodide (BMI), slices of dysplastic cortex demonstrated a significant increase in the number of spontaneous and evoked epileptiform discharges. Individual pyramidal neurons in dysplastic cortex were less sensitive to application of GABA compared with controls.

Conclusions: BCNU exposure in utero produces histologic alterations suggestive of CD in rat offspring. Dysplastic cortex from this model demonstrates features of hyperexcitability and decreased neuronal sensitivity to GABA. Such physiologic alterations may underlie the increased epileptogenicity of dysplastic cortex.