Drug resistance in epilepsy: putative neurobiologic and clinical mechanisms

Epilepsia. 2005 Jun;46(6):858-77. doi: 10.1111/j.1528-1167.2005.54904.x.


Drug-resistant epilepsy with uncontrolled severe seizures despite state-of-the-art medical treatment continues to be a major clinical problem for up to one in three patients with epilepsy. Although drug resistance may emerge or remit in the course of epilepsy or its treatment, in most patients, drug resistance seems to be continuous and to occur de novo. Unfortunately, current antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) do not seem to prevent or to reverse drug resistance in most patients, but add-on therapy with novel AEDs is able to exert a modest seizure reduction in as many as 50% of patients in short-term clinical trials, and a few become seizure free during the trial. It is not known why and how epilepsy becomes drug resistant, while other patients with seemingly identical seizure types can achieve seizure control with medication. Several putative mechanisms underlying drug resistance in epilepsy have been identified in recent years. Based on experimental and clinical studies, two major neurobiologic theories have been put forward: (a) removal of AEDs from the epileptogenic tissue through excessive expression of multidrug transporters, and (b) reduced drug-target sensitivity in epileptogenic brain tissue. On the clinical side, genetic and clinical features and structural brain lesions have been associated with drug resistance in epilepsy. In this article, we review the laboratory and clinical evidence to date supporting the drug-transport and the drug-target hypotheses and provide directions for future research, to define more clearly the role of these hypotheses in the clinical spectrum of drug-resistant epilepsy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily B / metabolism
  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily B / physiology
  • Anticonvulsants / pharmacokinetics
  • Anticonvulsants / therapeutic use*
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Drug Resistance
  • Epilepsy / drug therapy*
  • Epilepsy / epidemiology
  • Epilepsy / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Multidrug Resistance-Associated Proteins / metabolism
  • Multidrug Resistance-Associated Proteins / physiology
  • Pharmacogenetics
  • Receptors, GABA / drug effects
  • Receptors, GABA / metabolism
  • Sodium Channels / drug effects
  • Sodium Channels / metabolism
  • Treatment Outcome


  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily B
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Multidrug Resistance-Associated Proteins
  • Receptors, GABA
  • Sodium Channels