Genetics of familial episodic vertigo and ataxia

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2002 Apr;956:338-45. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2002.tb02832.x.


The familial episodic ataxias are prototypical inherited channelopathies that result in episodes of vertigo and ataxia triggered by stress and exercise. Episodic ataxia type 1 (EA-1) is caused by missense mutations in the potassium channel gene KCNA1, whereas episodic ataxia type 2 (EA-2) is caused by missense and nonsense mutations in the calcium channel gene CACNA1A. These ion channels are crucial for both central and peripheral neurotransmission. Within the last few years, the genetic mechanisms underlying these relatively rare familial episodic ataxia syndromes have been worked out. They provide a model for understanding the mechanisms of more common recurrent vertigo and ataxia syndromes, particularly those associated with migraine. Migraine affects as many as 15-20% of the general population, and it has been estimated that about 25% of patients with migraine experience spontaneous attacks of vertigo and ataxia. We identified 24 families with migraine and benign recurrent vertigo inherited in an autosomal dominant fashion. These families have numerous features in common with EA-1 and EA-2 (particularly EA-2), suggesting that benign recurrent vertigo may be an inherited channelopathy. An ion channel mutation shared by brain and inner ear could explain the combined central and peripheral features of the syndrome.

MeSH terms

  • Calcium Channels / genetics
  • Cerebellar Ataxia / genetics*
  • Codon, Nonsense*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Kv1.1 Potassium Channel
  • Male
  • Mutation, Missense*
  • Nystagmus, Physiologic / genetics
  • Potassium Channels / genetics
  • Potassium Channels, Voltage-Gated*
  • Protein Subunits
  • Syndrome
  • Vertigo / genetics*


  • CACNA1A protein, human
  • Calcium Channels
  • Codon, Nonsense
  • KCNA1 protein, human
  • Potassium Channels
  • Potassium Channels, Voltage-Gated
  • Protein Subunits
  • Kv1.1 Potassium Channel