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Brief bursts of focal, low amplitude rhythmic activity have been observed on depth electroencephalogram (EEG) in the minutes before electrographic onset of seizures in human mesial temporal lobe epilepsy. We have found these periods to contain discrete, individualized synchronized activity in patient-specific frequency bands ranging from 20 to 40 Hz. We present a method for detecting and displaying these events using a periodogram of the sign-limited temporal derivative of the EEG signal, denoted joint sign periodogram event characterization transform (JSPECT). When applied to continuous 2-6 day depth-EEG recordings from ten patients with temporal lobe epilepsy, JSPECT demonstrated that these patient-specific EEG events reliably occurred 5-80 s prior to electrical onset of seizures in five patients with focal, unilateral seizure onsets. JSPECT did not reveal this type of activity prior to seizures in five other patients with bilateral, extratemporal or more diffuse seizure onsets on EEG. Patient-specific, localized rhythmic events may play an important role in seizure generation in temporal lobe epilepsy. The JSPECT method efficiently detects these events, and may be useful as part of an automated system for predicting electrical seizure onset in appropriate patients.