Pathway-driven discovery of epilepsy genes

Nat Neurosci. 2015 Mar;18(3):344-50. doi: 10.1038/nn.3933. Epub 2015 Feb 24.


Epilepsy genes deliver critical insights into the molecular control of brain synchronization and are revolutionizing our understanding and treatment of the disease. The epilepsy-associated genome is rapidly expanding, and two powerful complementary approaches, isolation of de novo exome variants in patients and targeted mutagenesis in model systems, account for the steep increase. In sheer number, the tally of genes linked to seizures will likely match that of cancer and exceed it in biological diversity. The proteins act within most intracellular compartments and span the molecular determinants of firing and wiring in the developing brain. Every facet of neurotransmission, from dendritic spine to exocytotic machinery, is in play, and defects of synaptic inhibition are over-represented. The contributions of somatic mutations and noncoding microRNAs are also being explored. The functional spectrum of established epilepsy genes and the arrival of rapid, precise technologies for genome editing now provide a robust scaffold to prioritize hypothesis-driven discovery and further populate this genetic proto-map. Although each gene identified offers translational potential to stratify patient care, the complexity of individual variation and covert actions of genetic modifiers may confound single-gene solutions for the clinical disorder. In vivo genetic deconstruction of epileptic networks, ex vivo validation of variant profiles in patient-derived induced pluripotent stem cells, in silico variant modeling and modifier gene discovery, now in their earliest stages, will help clarify individual patterns. Because seizures stand at the crossroads of all neuronal synchronization disorders in the developing and aging brain, the neurobiological analysis of epilepsy-associated genes provides an extraordinary gateway to new insights into higher cortical function.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Brain / pathology
  • Epilepsy / genetics*
  • Epilepsy / pathology
  • Epilepsy / therapy
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease / genetics*
  • Genetic Therapy / methods
  • Genome / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Ion Channels / genetics
  • Mutation / genetics*
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / genetics
  • Neural Pathways / physiology


  • Ion Channels
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins