Generalised epileptic seizures are frequently accompanied by sudden, reversible transitions from low amplitude, irregular background activity to high amplitude, regular spike-wave discharges (SWD) in the EEG. The underlying mechanisms responsible for SWD generation and for the apparently spontaneous transitions to SWD and back again are still not fully understood. Specifically, the role of spatial cortico-cortical interactions in ictogenesis is not well studied. We present a macroscopic, neural mass model of a cortical column which includes two distinct time scales of inhibition. This model can produce both an oscillatory background and a pathological SWD rhythm. We demonstrate that coupling two of these cortical columns can lead to a bistability between out-of-phase, low amplitude background dynamics and in-phase, high amplitude SWD activity. Stimuli can cause state-dependent transitions from background into SWD. In an extended local area of cortex, spatial heterogeneities in a model parameter can lead to spontaneous reversible transitions from a desynchronised background to synchronous SWD due to intermittency. The deterministic model is therefore capable of producing absence seizure-like events without any time dependent adjustment of model parameters. The emergence of such mechanisms due to spatial coupling demonstrates the importance of spatial interactions in modelling ictal dynamics, and in the study of ictogenesis. © 2011 Elsevier Inc.
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