Seizures in the Developing Brain Cause Adverse Long-term Effects on Spatial Learning and Anxiety


Address correspondence and reprint requests to Dr. C.E. Stafstrom at Department of Neurology, H6-528, University of Wisconsin, 600 Highland Avenue, Madison, WI 53792, U.S.A. E-mail:

Present address of Dr. Sayin: Institute of Forensic Sciences, Istanbul University, Cerrahpasa, Istanbul, Turkey.


Summary: Purpose: Seizures in the developing brain cause less macroscopic structural damage than do seizures in adulthood, but accumulating evidence shows that seizures early in life can be associated with persistent behavioral and cognitive impairments. We previously showed that long-term spatial memory in the eight-arm radial-arm maze was impaired in rats that experienced a single episode of kainic acid (KA)-induced status epilepticus during early development (postnatal days (P) 1–14). Here we extend those findings by using a set of behavioral paradigms that are sensitive to additional aspects of learning and behavior.

Methods: On P1, P7, P14, or P24, rats underwent status epilepticus induced by intraperitoneal injections of age-specific doses of KA. In adulthood (P90–P100), the behavioral performance of these rats was compared with that of control rats that did not receive KA. A modified version of the radial-arm maze was used to assess short-term spatial memory; the Morris water maze was used to evaluate long-term spatial memory and retrieval; and the elevated plus maze was used to determine anxiety.

Results: Compared with controls, rats with KA seizures at each tested age had impaired short-term spatial memory in the radial-arm maze (longer latency to criterion and more reference errors), deficient long-term spatial learning and retrieval in the water maze (longer escape latencies and memory for platform location), and a greater degree of anxiety in the elevated plus maze (greater time spent in open arms).

Conclusions: These findings provide additional support for the concept that seizures early in life may be followed by life-long impairment of certain cognitive and behavioral functions. These results may have clinical implications, favoring early and aggressive control of seizures during development.