The role of NREM sleep micro-arousals in absence epilepsy and in nocturnal frontal lobe epilepsy

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The article summarises the role of input and consequent phasic events in the dynamism of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep and in homeostatic slow-wave economy during sleep.Then, an overview of the mechanism of how micro-arousals in NREM sleep gate epileptic events in absence epilepsy (AE) and in sporadic and autosomal dominant nocturnal frontal lobe epilepsy (NFLE/ADNFLE) is presented.The ictal type of generalised spike-wave discharges (SWDs) are associated with a special vigilance level in between NREM, rapid-eye movement (REM) and wake state. This transitional state is characterised by input-driven bidirectional fluctuations. Among them, SWDs are linked to A1 type A phases of CAP and therefore seem to be associated with shifts towards NREM sleep (sleep induction).In ADNFLE (and presumably in NFLE), micro-arousals release epileptic events in NREM sleep probably due to epileptic sensitisation of the cholinergic arousal system by the known acetylcholine (ACh) receptor mutations affecting the arousal system, giving rise to the epileptic (and also parasomniac) episodes.In both kinds of these system epilepsies (AE and NFLE), epileptic events can be released by phasic events during NREM sleep.The difference is that absences are activated in reactive states with a sleep-promoting, antiarousal effect, while in NFLE the epileptic disorder is interwoven with the cholinergic arousal function.The role of arousal/antiarousal in NFLE and AE fits nicely with the hypothesis that these epilepsies are disorders of two antagonistic thalamo-frontal systems involved in functions NREM sleep and wakefulness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9-19
Number of pages11
JournalEpilepsy Research
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - Nov 1 2013



  • Absence epilepsy
  • Cyclic alternating pattern (CAP)
  • Micro-arousal
  • Nocturnal frontal lobe epilepsy
  • Reactive slow waves
  • System epilepsies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology

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