ABC transporters during epilepsy and mechanisms underlying multidrug resistance in refractory epilepsy

Epilepsia. 2007;48 Suppl 5:140-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1528-1167.2007.01302.x.


It is estimated 20-25% of the epileptic patients fails to achieve good control with the different antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) treatments, developing refractory epilepsy (RE). Discovered first in cancer, the activity of P-glycoprotein (P-gp) and others ABC transporters as multidrug-resistance-associated proteins (MRPs) and breast cancer resistant protein (BCRP) are directly related with the refractoriness. We have observed the overexpression of these all transporters in the brain of patients with RE, and according with other authors, all these data suggests an active drug efflux from brain. Both constitutive and seizure induced brain P-gp overexpression was also suggested. As confirmation of these clinical evidences, different models of experimental epilepsy have demonstrated P-gp overexpression on blood brain barrier (BBB) and brain parenchyma cells, as astrocytes and neurons. In our model, early P-pg detection in vessel-related cells and later additional P-gp detection in neurons, correlated with the gradual loss of protective effect of phenytoin. The progressive neuronal P-gp expression, depending on intensity and time-constancy of seizure-injury, was in agreement with the development of "P-gp-positive seizure-axis" proposed by Kwan & Brodie, who also showed that the development of RE directly correlated with the number and frequency of seizures before initiation of drug therapy. P-gp expression in excretory organs suggests that P-gp have a central role in drug elimination. Persistent low levels of AEDs in plasma and P-gp brain overexpression in several RE pediatric patients were reported. We also observed in adult RE patients, an increased liver clearance of 99mTc-hexakis-2-methoxyisobutylisonitrile (99mTc-MIBI) (a P-gp substrate), and the surgically treated cases showed P-gp brain overexpression. These results suggest the systemic hyperactivity of P-gp in RE patients, including brain P-gp over-expression should be suspected when persistent subtherapeutic levels of AEDs in plasma are detected. P-gp neuronal expression described in both clinical and experimental reports indicates that additional mechanisms could be operative from seizure-affected P-gp-positive neurons, due to AEDs targets are expressed at membrane level. An alternative mechanism was demonstrated in P-gp-expressed cells that exhibit lower membrane potential (Deltapsi(0)=-10 to -20) compared to normal physiological Deltapsi(0) of -60 mV. Under this situation and irrespective to the P-gp pharmacoresistant property or type of drug treatment selected, P-gp-expressed neurons could increase their sensitivity to new seizures perhaps as an epileptogenic mechanism. The understanding of properties of these ABC transporters can offer new tools for better selection of more effective preventive or therapeutic strategies and avoid the invasive surgical treatments for RE.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily B, Member 1 / genetics
  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily B, Member 1 / metabolism
  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily G, Member 2
  • ATP-Binding Cassette Transporters / genetics
  • ATP-Binding Cassette Transporters / pharmacology
  • ATP-Binding Cassette Transporters / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Anticonvulsants / blood
  • Anticonvulsants / therapeutic use*
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / metabolism
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Brain / physiology
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Drug Resistance, Multiple / genetics
  • Drug Resistance, Multiple / physiology*
  • Epilepsy / drug therapy*
  • Epilepsy / genetics
  • Epilepsy / physiopathology*
  • Gene Expression / genetics
  • Humans
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Metabolic Clearance Rate
  • Multidrug Resistance-Associated Proteins / genetics
  • Neoplasm Proteins / genetics
  • Nitriles / metabolism
  • Organotechnetium Compounds / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Tissue Distribution


  • ABCG2 protein, human
  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily B, Member 1
  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily G, Member 2
  • ATP-Binding Cassette Transporters
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Multidrug Resistance-Associated Proteins
  • Neoplasm Proteins
  • Nitriles
  • Organotechnetium Compounds
  • technetium Tc 99m ethoxyisobutylisonitrile