Blurring in patients with temporal lobe epilepsy: Clinical, high-field imaging and ultrastructural study

Rita Garbelli, Gloria Milesi, Valentina Medici, Flavio Villani, Giuseppe Didato, Francesco Deleo, Ludovico D'Incerti, Michela Morbin, Giulia Mazzoleni, Anna Rita Giovagnoli, Annalisa Parente, Ileana Zucca, Alfonso Mastropietro, Roberto Spreafico

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Magnetic resonance imaging-positive temporal lobe atrophy with temporo-polar grey/white matter abnormalities (usually called 'blurring') has been frequently reported in patients with temporal lobe epilepsy associated with hippocampal sclerosis. The poor distinction of grey and white matter has been attributed to various causes, including developmental cortical abnormalities, gliosis, myelin alterations, a non-specific increase in temporal lobe water content and metabolic/perfusion alterations. However, there is still no consensus regarding the genesis of these abnormalities and no histopathological proof for a structural nature of magnetic resonance imaging changes. The aim of this study was to investigate the pathological substrate of temporo-polar blurring using different methodological approaches and evaluate the possible clinical significance of the abnormalities. The study involved 32 consecutive patients with medically intractable temporal lobe epilepsy and hippocampal sclerosis who underwent surgery after a comprehensive electroclinical and imaging evaluation. They were divided into two groups on the basis of the presence/absence of temporo-polar blurring. Surgical specimens were examined neuropathologically, and selected samples from both groups underwent high-field 7T magnetic resonance imaging and ultrastructural studies. At the clinical level, the two groups were significantly different in terms of age at epilepsy onset (earlier in the patients with blurring) and epilepsy duration (longer in the patients with blurring). Blurring was also associated with lower neuropsychological test scores, with a significant relationship to abstract reasoning. On 7T magnetic resonance image examination, the borders between the grey and white matter were clear in all of the samples, but only those with blurring showed a dishomogeneous signal in the white matter, with patchy areas of hyperintensity mainly in the depth of the white matter. Sections from the patients with blurring that were processed for myelin staining revealed dishomogeneous staining of the white matter, which was confirmed by analyses of the corresponding semi-thin sections. Ultrastructural examinations revealed the presence of axonal degeneration and a significant reduction in the number of axons in the patients with blurring; there were no vascular alterations in either group. These data obtained using different methodological approaches provide robust evidence that temporo-polar blurring is caused by the degeneration of fibre bundles and suggest slowly evolving chronic degeneration with the redistribution of the remaining fibres. The article also discusses the correlations between the morphological findings and clinical data.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2337-2349
Number of pages13
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • electron microscopy
  • epilepsy surgery
  • high-field MRI
  • neuropathology
  • temporal lobe epilepsy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology


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