Mechanisms of altered cortical excitability in photosensitive epilepsy

  • Daniela Brazzo

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Despite the multiplicity of approaches and techniques so far applied for identifying the pathophysiological mechanisms of photosensitive epilepsy, a generally agreed explanation of the phenomenon is still lacking. The present thesis reports on three interlinked original experimental studies conducted to explore the neurophysiological correlates and the phatophysiological mechanism of photosensitive epilepsy. In the first study I assessed the role of the habituation of the Visual Evoked Response test as a possible biomarker of epileptic visual sensitivity. The two subsequent studies were designed to address specific research questions emerging from the results of the first study. The findings of the three intertwined studies performed provide experimental evidence that photosensitivity is associated with changes in a number of electrophysiological measures suggestive of altered balance between excitatory and inhibitory cortical processes. Although a strong clinical association does exist between specific epileptic syndromes and visual sensitivity, results from this research indicate that photosensitivity trait seems to be the expression of specific pathophysiological mechanisms quite distinct from the “epileptic” phenotype. The habituation of Pattern Reversal Visual Evoked Potential (PR-VEP) appears as a reliable candidate endo-phenotype of visual sensitivity. Interpreting the findings of this study in the context of the broader literature on visual habituation we can hypothesise the existence of a shared neurophysiological background between photosensitive epilepsy and migraine. Future studies to elucidate the relationship between the proposed indices of cortical excitability and specific polymorphisms of excitatroy and inhibitory neurotransmission will need to be conducted to assess their potential role as biomarkers of photosensitivity.
Date of AwardDec 2010
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorStefano Seri (Supervisor) & Paul Furlong (Supervisor)


  • Photosensitivity
  • cortical excitability
  • evoked potentials
  • thalamocortical dysrhythmia
  • gamma oscillations

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