January 2, 2020

Study Finds Possible Brain-Based Risk Factors for Internalizing Symptoms (Depression and Anxiety) in Intractable Pediatric Epilepsy

Internalizing disorders (i.e., depression and anxiety) are common comorbidities in people with epilepsy. In adults with epilepsy, comorbid depression or anxiety is associated with worse seizure control and reduced quality of life, and may be linked to specific neural biomarkers. Less is known about brain correlates of internalizing symptoms in pediatric populations.

In the current study, researchers performed a retrospective analysis of 45 youth between the ages of 6 and 18 years old with intractable epilepsy. Individuals were evaluated for internalizing symptoms on the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) and underwent magnetic resonance (MR) and fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG)-positron emission tomography (PET) imaging as part of the clinical evaluation for surgical treatment of epilepsy. Forty-two percent of patients experienced clinically significant internalizing symptoms based on parent report.

Compared with individuals who scored in the normal range, youth with clinical levels of internalizing problems showed overall reductions in cortex volume, as well as widespread reductions in cortical thickness and functional activation in the bilateral occipital/parietal lobe, left temporal regions, and left inferior frontal cortex on MR and PET scans. There were no group differences in amygdala or hippocampus volumes, nor other patient- or illness-related variables such as age, sex, or the type, lateralization, or duration of epilepsy.

Results suggest that high rates of internalizing disorders are present in youth with refractory epilepsy. Multifocal reductions in cortical thickness and function may be nonspecific risk factors for clinically meaningful internalizing symptoms in youth with chronic epilepsy. As such, the presence of broad cortical thinning and reduced glucose uptake upon radiological examination may warrant more focused clinical evaluation of psychological symptoms.

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