Sodium channels, inherited epilepsy, and antiepileptic drugs

Annu Rev Pharmacol Toxicol. 2014;54:317-38. doi: 10.1146/annurev-pharmtox-011112-140232.


Voltage-gated sodium channels initiate action potentials in brain neurons, mutations in sodium channels cause inherited forms of epilepsy, and sodium channel blockers-along with other classes of drugs-are used in therapy of epilepsy. A mammalian voltage-gated sodium channel is a complex containing a large, pore-forming α subunit and one or two smaller β subunits. Extensive structure-function studies have revealed many aspects of the molecular basis for sodium channel structure, and X-ray crystallography of ancestral bacterial sodium channels has given insight into their three-dimensional structure. Mutations in sodium channel α and β subunits are responsible for genetic epilepsy syndromes with a wide range of severity, including generalized epilepsy with febrile seizures plus (GEFS+), Dravet syndrome, and benign familial neonatal-infantile seizures. These seizure syndromes are treated with antiepileptic drugs that offer differing degrees of success. The recent advances in understanding of disease mechanisms and sodium channel structure promise to yield improved therapeutic approaches.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anticonvulsants / pharmacology*
  • Crystallography, X-Ray
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Epilepsies, Myoclonic / drug therapy*
  • Epilepsies, Myoclonic / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy
  • Mutation
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Seizures, Febrile / drug therapy
  • Seizures, Febrile / genetics
  • Voltage-Gated Sodium Channel Blockers / pharmacology*
  • Voltage-Gated Sodium Channels / chemistry
  • Voltage-Gated Sodium Channels / genetics*


  • Anticonvulsants
  • Voltage-Gated Sodium Channel Blockers
  • Voltage-Gated Sodium Channels