Brain structure and aging in chronic temporal lobe epilepsy


Address correspondence to Bruce Hermann, PhD, Department of Neurology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 600 N Highland, Madison, WI 53792, U.S.A. E-mail:


Purpose:  To characterize differences in brain structure and their patterns of age-related change in individuals with chronic childhood/adolescent onset temporal lobe epilepsy compared with healthy controls.

Methods:  Subjects included participants with chronic temporal lobe epilepsy (n = 55) of mean childhood/adolescent onset and healthy controls (n = 53), age 14–60 years. Brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies (1.5 T) were processed using FreeSurfer to obtain measures of lobar thickness, area, and volume as well as volumes of diverse subcortical structures and cerebellum. Group differences were explored followed by cross-sectional lifespan modeling as a function of age.

Key Findings:  Anatomic abnormalities were extensive in participants with chronic temporal lobe epilepsy including distributed subcortical structures (hippocampus, thalamus, caudate, and pallidum), cerebellar gray and white matter, total cerebral gray and white matter; and measures of cortical gray matter thickness, area, or volume in temporal (medial, lateral) and extratemporal lobes (frontal, parietal). Increasing chronologic age was associated with progressive changes in diverse cortical, subcortical, and cerebellar regions for both participants with epilepsy and controls. Age-accelerated changes in epilepsy participants were seen in selected areas (third and lateral ventricles), with largely comparable patterns of age-related change across other regions of interest.

Significance:  Extensive cortical, subcortical, and cerebellar abnormalities are present in participants with mean chronic childhood/adolescent onset temporal lobe epilepsy implicating a significant neurodevelopmental impact on brain structure. With increasing chronologic age, the brain changes occurring in epilepsy appear to proceed in a largely age-appropriate fashion compared to healthy controls, the primary exception being age-accelerated ventricular expansion (lateral and third ventricles). These cumulative structural abnormalities appear to represent a significant anatomic burden for persons with epilepsy, the consequences of which remain to be determined as they progress into elder years.