Size of cortical generators of epileptic interictal events and visibility on scalp EEG

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Growing evidence indicates that fast oscillations (> 80 Hz) can be recorded interictally in the scalp EEG of patients with epilepsy, and that they may point to the seizure-onset zone. However, mechanisms underpinning the emergence of scalp fast oscillations, and whether they differ from those of interictal epileptic discharges (IEDs), are yet to be understood. The visibility of cortical electric activity on scalp EEG recordings is dependent on two factors: the characteristics of the cortical generator and the background level. We studied this issue using scalp EEG recordings and detailed simulations, with a finite element model including 8 million elements and 8 different tissues. We observed an almost linear relationship between the amplitude of scalp electric potential and the extent of the generator on the cortex. However, this relationship is subject to substantial variability, with variations in factors greater than 3 occurring simply by changing the location on the cortex of generators of fixed extent. In addition, we showed that the background power in scalp EEG recordings decreases at higher frequency bands, being inversely proportional to a power of 2.5 of the frequency. In the specific case of fast oscillations, they can be detected within the lower noise level of the ripple band (80–200 Hz) even though their median amplitude on scalp EEG recordings is more than 10 times smaller than IEDs and consistent with cortical generators of approximately 1 cm2. In conclusion, the physics governing the propagation of electrical activity from the brain to the scalp are consistent with the hypothesis that scalp fast oscillations and intracranial high-frequency oscillations (HFOs, 80–500 Hz) are expressions of common generators. Given the potential role of HFOs as biomarkers in epilepsy, the possibility to obtain some of the associated information from scalp EEG is of high clinical significance.

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