Familial Episodic Ataxias and Related Ion Channel Disorders

Curr Treat Options Neurol. 2000 Sep;2(5):429-431. doi: 10.1007/s11940-000-0041-y.


Familial episodic ataxias are unusual hereditary disorders of early onset characterized by recurrent episodes of ataxia. Most patients recover fully between attacks, but some may develop progressive ataxia with cerebellar atrophy. There are two subtypes of episodic ataxia: type 1 (EA1), with interictal myokymia, and type 2 (EA2), with interictal nystagmus. Stress and fatigue can trigger ataxic spells, which can be responsive to acetazolamide. These clinical features are reminiscent of other channelopathies or paroxysmal neurologic disorders with progressive features caused by ion channel mutations. Familial episodic ataxias indeed are channelopathies. EA1 is caused by mutations in a potassium channel-encoding gene, whereas EA2 is caused by mutations in a calcium channel-encoding gene, which is also the disease-causing gene in spinocerebellar ataxia type 6 and several kindreds with familial hemiplegic migraine. Treatment with acetazolamide can be effective in decreasing the frequency of attacks and is generally well tolerated. Understanding the mechanism of action of acetazolamide and the functional consequences of these mutations will help one to develop a rational pharmacologic treatment for these disorders, which may share similar mechanisms with benign recurrent vertigo and more common forms of migraine.