Quantitative electron microscopic methods were used to study possible alterations in presumptive excitatory and inhibitory synaptic circuits in human neocortex removed from patients with intractable temporal lobe epilepsy. Synaptic density was compared between normal and abnormal regions as identified by Nissl staining and immunocytochemistry for the Ca2+-binding protein parvalbumin (PV). The normal regions showed a normal cytoarchitecture and normal pattern of staining for PV, whereas the abnormal regions displayed focal neuronal cell loss and a decrease in immunostaining for PV. In the abnormal regions the overall synaptic density (per 100 μm2 and per mm3) was approximately 30% higher than in normal regions, which corresponded to an increase of approximately 300 million synapses per mm3. The number of excitatory and inhibitory synapses was significantly higher and lower, respectively, than in normal regions. We suggest that these changes are a result of a focal sprouting of excitatory axon terminals and loss of inhibitory terminals which leads to hyperexcitatory synaptic circuits. These circuits may represent a neural substrate for the initiation or propagation of seizure activity in human epileptogenic neocortex.
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