A new autosomal recessively inherited disease of the central nervous system involving childhood epilepsy and mental deterioration is described. Twenty three patients (11 males and 12 females) belonging to 11 families from northern Finland have been identified. A common ancestor has been found for nine families. The mean age of onset of epilepsy was 6.7 years (range 5-10 years) and the epilepsy was characterised by generalised tonic-clonic seizures increasing in frequency up to puberty. One third of the patients also had complex partial seizures during childhood. During young adulthood the epileptic activity began to decrease, but complete remission did not occur. Electroencephalography showed progressive slowing of the background activity with relatively scanty epileptiform activity. Out of four ictal recordings the paroxysmal activity was initiated focally in two cases. Clonazepam and sodium valproate had some antiepileptic effect, clonazepam being the more beneficial of the two. Mental development, which was originally normal, began to deteriorate two to five years after the onset of epilepsy, and the deterioration continued during adulthood in spite of good epilepsy control, leading to mental retardation by middle age. The pathogenesis of the disorder, called the Northern epilepsy syndrome, is unknown. Linkage analysis using DNA markers linked to the EPM1 gene for progressive myoclonus epilepsy of Unverricht-Lundborg type showed that the Northern epilepsy syndrome is not allelic to EPM1.
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