Gray matter heterotopia (singular heterotopion) is a neurological disorder caused by clumps of grey matter being located in the wrong part of the brain. It is characterized as a type of cortical dysplasia. The neurons in heterotopia appear to be normal, except for their mislocation; nuclear studies have shown glucose metabolism equal to that of normally positioned gray matter. The condition causes a variety of symptoms, but usually includes some degree of epilepsy or recurring seizures, and often affects the brain’s ability to function on higher levels.
Symptoms range from nonexistent to profound; the condition is occasionally discovered by brain imaging performed for an unrelated problem and has no apparent ill effect on the patient. At the other extreme, heterotopia can result in severe seizure disorder, loss of motor skills, and mental retardation. Fatalities are practically unknown, other than the death of unborn male fetuses with a specific genetic defect.
Periventricular or subependymal
Periventricular means beside the ventricle, while subependymal (also spelled subepydymal) means beneath the ependyma; because the ependyma is the thin epithelial sheet lining the ventricles of the brain, these two terms are used to define heterotopia occurring directly next to a ventricle. This is by far the most common location for heterotopia. Patients with isolated subependymal heterotopia usually present with a seizure disorder in the second decade of life.
Subependymal heterotopia present in a wide array of variations. They can be a small single node or a large number of nodes, can exist on either or both sides of the brain at any point along the higher ventricle margins, can be small or large, single or multiple, and can form a small node or a large wavy or curved mass.
Symptomatic women with subependymal heterotopia typically present with partial epilepsy during the second decade of life; development and neurologic examinations up to that point are typically normal. Symptoms in men with subependymal heterotopia vary, depending on whether their disease is linked to their X-chromosome. Men with the X-linked form more commonly have associated anomalies, which can be neurological or more widespread, and they usually suffer from developmental problems. Otherwise (i.e., in non-X-linked cases) the symptomology is similar in both genders.
Subcortical heterotopia form as distinct nodes in the white matter, “focal” indicating specific area. In general, patients present fixed neurologic deficits and develop partial epilepsy between the ages of 6 and 10. The more extensive the subcortical heterotopia, the greater the deficit; bilateral heterotopia are almost invariably associated with severe developmental delay or mental retardation. The cortex itself often suffers from an absence of gray matter and may be unusually thin or lack deep sulci. Subepedymal heterotopia are frequently accompanied by other structural abnormalities, including an overall decrease in cortical mass. Patients with focal subcortical heterotopia have a variable motor and intellectual disturbance depending on the size and site of the heterotopion.
Like focal subcortical heterotopia, “band” heterotopia form in the white matter beneath the cortex, but the gray matter is more diffuse and is symmetric between the hemispheres. On imaging, band heterotopia appears as bands of gray matter situated between the lateral ventricle and cerebral cortex and separated from both by a layer of normal appearing white matter. Band heterotopia may be complete, surrounded by simple white matter, or partial. The frontal lobes seem to be more frequently involved when it is partial. Patients with band heterotopia may present at any age with variable developmental delay and seizure disorder, which vary widely in severity.