Metabotropic glutamate receptors as a strategic target for the treatment of epilepsy

Epilepsy Res. 2006 Sep;71(1):1-22. doi: 10.1016/j.eplepsyres.2006.05.012. Epub 2006 Jun 19.


Epilepsy is a chronic neurological disorder that has many known types, including generalized epilepsies that involve cortical and subcortical structures. A proportion of patients have seizures that are resistant to traditional anti-epilepsy drugs, which mainly target ion channels or postsynaptic receptors. This resistance to conventional therapies makes it important to identify novel targets for the treatment of epilepsy. Given the involvement of the neurotransmitter glutamate in the etiology of epilepsy, targets that control glutamatergic neurotransmission are of special interest. The metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluRs) are of a family of eight G-protein-coupled receptors that serve unique regulatory functions at synapses that use the neurotransmitter glutamate. Their distribution within the central nervous system provides a platform for both presynaptic control of glutamate release, as well as postsynaptic control of neuronal responses to glutamate. In recent years, substantial efforts have been made towards developing selective agonists and antagonists which may be useful for targeting specific receptor subtypes in an attempt to harness the therapeutic potential of these receptors. We examine the possibility of intervening at these receptors by considering the specific example of absence seizures, a form of generalized, non-convulsive seizure that involves the thalamus. Views of the etiology of absence seizures have evolved over time from the "centrencephalic" concept of a diffuse subcortical pacemaker toward the "cortical focus" theory in which cortical hyperexcitability leads the thalamus into the 3-4 Hz rhythms that are characteristic of absence seizures. Since the cortex communicates with the thalamus via a massive glutamatergic projection, ionotropic glutamate receptor (iGluR) blockade has held promise, but the global nature of iGluR intervention has precluded the clinical effectiveness of drugs that block iGluRs. In contrast, mGluRs, because they modulate iGluRs at glutamatergic synapses only under certain conditions, may quell seizure activity by selectively reducing hyperactive glutamatergic synaptic communication within the cortex and thalamus without significantly affecting normal response rates. In this article, we review the circuitry and events leading to absence seizure generation within the corticothalamic network, we present a comprehensive review of the synaptic location and function of mGluRs within the thalamus and cerebral cortex, and review the current knowledge of mGluR modulation and seizure generation. We conclude by reviewing the potential advantages of Group II mGluRs, specifically mGluR2, in the treatment of both convulsive and non-convulsive seizures.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anticonvulsants / therapeutic use
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Epilepsy, Absence / drug therapy
  • Epilepsy, Absence / physiopathology*
  • Epilepsy, Generalized / drug therapy
  • Epilepsy, Generalized / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Rats
  • Receptors, Metabotropic Glutamate / agonists
  • Receptors, Metabotropic Glutamate / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Metabotropic Glutamate / therapeutic use
  • Synaptic Transmission / drug effects
  • Thalamus / physiopathology*


  • Anticonvulsants
  • Receptors, Metabotropic Glutamate