Do ATP-binding cassette transporters cause pharmacoresistance in epilepsy? Problems and approaches in determining which antiepileptic drugs are affected

Curr Pharm Des. 2011;17(26):2808-28. doi: 10.2174/138161211797440212.


Resistance to multiple antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) is a common problem in epilepsy, affecting at least 30% of patients. One prominent hypothesis to explain this resistance suggests an inadequate penetration or excess efflux of AEDs across the blood - brain barrier (BBB) as a result of overexpressed efflux transporters such as P-glycoprotein (Pgp), the encoded product of the multidrug resistance- 1 (MDR1, ABCB1) gene. Pgp and MDR1 are markedly increased in epileptogenic brain tissue of patients with AED-resistant partial epilepsy and following seizures in rodent models of partial epilepsy. In rodent models, AED-resistant rats exhibit higher Pgp levels than responsive animals; increased Pgp expression is associated with lower brain levels of AEDs; and, most importantly, co-administration of Pgp inhibitors reverses AED resistance. Thus, it is reasonable to conclude that Pgp plays a significant role in mediating resistance to AEDs in rodent models of epilepsy - however, whether this phenomenon extends to at least some human refractory epilepsy remains unclear, particularly because it is still a matter of debate which AEDs, if any, are transported by human Pgp. The difficulty in determining which AEDs are substrates of human Pgp is mainly a consequence of the fact that AEDs are highly permeable compounds, which are not easily identified as Pgp substrates in in vitro models of the BBB, such as monolayer (Transwell(®)) efflux assays. By using a modified assay (concentration equilibrium transport assay; CETA), which minimizes the influence of high transcellular permeability, two groups have recently demonstrated that several major AEDs are transported by human Pgp. Importantly, it was demonstrated in these studies that Pgp-mediated transport highly depends on the AED concentration and may not be identified if concentrations below or above the therapeutic range are used. In addition to the efflux transporters, seizure-induced alterations in BBB integrity and activity of drug metabolizing enzymes (CYPs) affect the brain uptake of AEDs. For translating these findings to the clinical arena, in vivo imaging studies using positron emission tomography (PET) with (11)C-labelled AEDs in epileptic patients are under way.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • ATP-Binding Cassette Transporters / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Anticonvulsants / pharmacokinetics
  • Anticonvulsants / pharmacology*
  • Biological Transport
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / metabolism
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System / metabolism
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Drug Resistance
  • Epilepsy / drug therapy*
  • Epilepsy / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Rats


  • ATP-Binding Cassette Transporters
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System