Ion channel variation causes epilepsies

Brain Res Brain Res Rev. 2001 Oct;36(2-3):275-84. doi: 10.1016/s0165-0173(01)00104-7.


The discovery of genetically transmissible form of epilepsy associated with a mutation in a gene that codes for a subunit of a ligand-gated channel shined a new light in this field of neurological diseases. Because this gene (CHRNA4) codes for a neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor subunit, functional studies could be designed to evaluate the alterations caused by this mutation. Since this initial observation, five mutations were identified and determination of their functional properties initiated. These experiments were extended to pairwise expression of the control and mutated allele to mimic the heterozygote human genotype. The first common functional trait identified so far, in four of these mutants, is an increased sensitivity to the acetylcholine, suggesting that these mutations may cause a gain of function. An alternative possibility that cannot be excluded is that conditions in the brain are such that these higher responding receptors may be more prone to desensitization. The importance of ionic channels as cause of epilepsies was further demonstrated with the identification of the association between the benign neonatal epilepsy and mutations in genes coding for potassium channel subunits (KCNQ2, KCNQ3). Additional evidences were brought by the identification of mutations in voltage-dependent sodium channels (SCN1A, SCN1B) in a form of generalized epilepsy with febrile seizures.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / genetics
  • Acetylcholine / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Brain / pathology
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Brain Chemistry / genetics*
  • Epilepsy / genetics*
  • Epilepsy / metabolism
  • Epilepsy / physiopathology
  • Gene Expression Regulation / genetics
  • Humans
  • Ion Channels / genetics*
  • Ion Channels / metabolism
  • Mutation / genetics*
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / genetics*
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / metabolism
  • Synaptic Transmission / genetics


  • Ion Channels
  • Receptors, Nicotinic
  • nicotinic acetylcholine receptor alpha4 subunit
  • Acetylcholine