Antiepileptic drugs in non-epilepsy disorders: relations between mechanisms of action and clinical efficacy

CNS Drugs. 2008;22(1):27-47. doi: 10.2165/00023210-200822010-00003.


Antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) are used extensively to treat multiple non-epilepsy disorders, both in neurology and psychiatry. This article provides a review of the clinical efficacy of AEDs in non-epilepsy disorders based on recently published preclinical and clinical studies, and attempts to relate this efficacy to the mechanism of action of AEDs and pathophysiological processes associated with the disorders. Some newer indications for AEDs have been established, while others are under investigation. The disorders where AEDs have been demonstrated to be of clinical importance include neurological disorders, such as essential tremor, neuropathic pain and migraine, and psychiatric disorders, including anxiety, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Many of the AEDs have various targets of action in the synapse and have several proposed relevant mechanisms of action in epilepsy and in other disorders. Pathophysiological processes disturb neuronal excitability by modulating ion channels, receptors and intracellular signalling pathways, and these are targets for the pharmacological action of various AEDs. Attention is focused on the glutamatergic and GABAergic synapses. In psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, AEDs such as valproate, carbamazepine and lamotrigine appear to have clear roles based on their effect on intracellular pathways. On the other hand, some AEDs, e.g. topiramate, have efficacy for nonpsychiatric disorders including migraine, possibly by enhancing GABAergic and reducing glutamatergic neurotransmission. AEDs that seem to enhance GABAergic neurotransmission, e.g. tiagabine, valproate, gabapentin and possibly levetiracetam, may have a role in treating neurological disorders such as essential tremor, or anxiety disorders. AEDs with effects on voltage-gated sodium or calcium channels may be advantageous in treating neuropathic pain, e.g. gabapentin, pregabalin, carbamazepine, oxcarbazepine, lamotrigine and valproate. Co-morbid conditions associated with epilepsy, such as mood disorders and migraine, may often respond to treatment with AEDs. Other possible disorders where AEDs may be of clinical importance include cancer, HIV infection, drug and alcohol abuse, and also in neuroprotection. A future challenge is to evaluate the second-generation AEDs in non-epilepsy disorders and to design clinical trials to study their effects in such disorders in paediatric patients. Differentiation between the main mechanisms of action of the AEDs needs more consideration in drug selection for tailored treatment of the various non-epilepsy disorders.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anticonvulsants / pharmacology*
  • Anticonvulsants / therapeutic use*
  • Anxiety / drug therapy
  • Bipolar Disorder / drug therapy
  • Essential Tremor / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Migraine Disorders / drug therapy
  • Nervous System Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Nervous System Diseases / physiopathology
  • Pain / drug therapy
  • Schizophrenia / drug therapy


  • Anticonvulsants