Neuronal firing and waveform alterations through Ictal recruitment in humans

Edward M. Merricks, Elliot H. Smith, Ronald G. Emerson, Lisa M. Bateman, Guy M. McKhann, Robert R. Goodman, Sameer A. Sheth, Bradley Greger, Paul A. House, Andrew J. Trevelyan, Catherine A. Schevon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Analyzing neuronal activity during human seizures is pivotal to understanding mechanisms of seizure onset and propagation. These analyses, however, invariably using extracellular recordings, are greatly hindered by various phenomena that are well established in animal studies: changes in local ionic concentration, changes in ionic conductance, and intense, hypersynchronous firing. The first two alter the action potential waveform, whereas the third increases the "noise"; all three factors confound attempts to detect and classify single neurons. To address these analytical difficulties, we developed a novel template-matching-based spike sorting method, which enabled identification of 1239 single neurons in 27 patients (13 female) with intractable focal epilepsy, that were tracked throughout multiple seizures. These new analyses showed continued neuronal firing with widespread intense activation and stereotyped action potential alterations in tissue that was invaded by the seizure: neurons displayed increased waveform duration (p<0.001) and reduced amplitude (p<0.001), consistent with prior animal studies. By contrast, neurons in "penumbral" regions (those receiving intense local synaptic drive from the seizure but without neuronal evidence of local seizure invasion) showed stable waveforms. All neurons returned to their preictal waveforms after seizure termination. We conclude that the distinction between "core" territories invaded by the seizure versus "penumbral" territories is evident at the level of single neurons. Furthermore, the increased waveform duration and decreased waveform amplitude are neuron-intrinsic hallmarks of seizure invasion that impede traditional spike sorting and could be used as defining characteristics of local recruitment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)766-779
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jan 27 2021


  • Action potential
  • Epilepsy
  • Human
  • Seizure
  • Single neuron
  • Single unit

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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