Author ORCID Identifier

Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation





First Advisor

Dr. Bret N. Smith


Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that is characterized by aberrant electrical activity in the brain resulting in at least two unprovoked seizures over a period longer than 24 hours. Approximately 60% of individuals with epilepsy are diagnosed with temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE) and about one third of those individuals do not respond well to anti-seizure medications. This places those individuals at high risk for sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP). SUDEP is defined as when an individual with epilepsy, who is otherwise healthy, dies suddenly and unexpectedly for unknown reasons. SUDEP is one of the leading causes of death in individuals with acquired epilepsies (i.e. not due to genetic mutations), such as TLE. Previous studies utilizing genetic models of epilepsy have suggested that circuitry within the vagal complex of the brainstem may play a role in SUDEP risk. Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) neurons of the nucleus tractus solitarius (NTS) within the vagal complex receive, filter, and modulate cardiorespiratory information from the vagus nerve. GABAergic NTS neurons then project to cardiac vagal motor neurons, eventually effecting parasympathetic output to the periphery. In this study, a mouse model of TLE was used to assess the effect of epileptogenesis on GABAergic NTS neuron function and determine if functional alterations in these neurons impact SUDEP risk. It was discovered that mice with TLE (i.e. TLE mice) have significantly increased mortality rates compared to control animals, suggesting that SUDEP occurs in this model. Using whole cell electrophysiology synaptic and intrinsic properties of GABAergic NTS neurons were investigated in TLE and control mice. Results suggest that during epileptogenesis, GABAergic NTS neurons become hyperexcitable, potentially due to a reduction in A-type potassium channel current and increased excitatory synaptic input. Increases in hyperexcitability have been shown to be associated with an increased risk of spreading depolarization and action potential inactivation leading to neuronal quiescence. This may lead to a decreased inhibition of parasympathetic tone, causing cardiorespiratory collapse and SUDEP in TLE.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)