The epileptic encephalopathy jungle – from Dr West to the concepts of aetiology-related and developmental encephalopathies

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Abstract

Purpose of review

We aim to further disentangle the jungle of terminology of epileptic encephalopathy and provide some insights into the current understanding about the aetiology and pathophysiology of this process. We cover also the key features of epilepsy syndromes of infancy and childhood which are considered at high risk of developing an epileptic encephalopathy.

Recent findings

The concept of ‘epileptic encephalopathy’ has progressively been elaborated by the International League Against Epilepsy according to growing clinical and laboratory evidence. It defines a process of neurological impairment caused by the epileptic activity itself and, therefore, potentially reversible with successful treatment, although to a variable extent. Epileptic activity interfering with neurogenesis, synaptogenesis, and normal network organization as well as triggering neuroinflammation are among the possible pathophysiological mechanisms leading to the neurological compromise. This differs from the newly introduced concept of ‘developmental encephalopathy’ which applies to where the epilepsy and developmental delay are both because of the underlying aetiology and aggressive antiepileptic treatment may not be helpful.

Summary

The understanding and use of correct terminology is crucial in clinical practice enabling appropriate expectations of antiepileptic treatment. Further research is needed to elucidate underlying pathophysiological mechanisms, define clear outcome predictors, and find new treatment targets.

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