Exaggerated Nighttime Sleep and Defective Sleep Homeostasis in a Drosophila Knock-In Model of Human Epilepsy

PLoS One. 2015 Sep 11;10(9):e0137758. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0137758. eCollection 2015.


Despite an established link between epilepsy and sleep behavior, it remains unclear how specific epileptogenic mutations affect sleep and subsequently influence seizure susceptibility. Recently, Sun et al. (2012) created a fly knock-in model of human generalized epilepsy with febrile seizures plus (GEFS+), a wide-spectrum disorder characterized by fever-associated seizing in childhood and lifelong affliction. GEFS+ flies carry a disease-causing mutation in their voltage-gated sodium channel (VGSC) gene and display semidominant heat-induced seizing, likely due to reduced GABAergic inhibitory activity at high temperature. Here, we show that at room temperature the GEFS+ mutation dominantly modifies sleep, with mutants exhibiting rapid sleep onset at dusk and increased nighttime sleep as compared to controls. These characteristics of GEFS+ sleep were observed regardless of sex, mating status, and genetic background. GEFS+ mutant sleep phenotypes were more resistant to pharmacologic reduction of GABA transmission by carbamazepine (CBZ) than controls, and were mitigated by reducing GABAA receptor expression specifically in wake-promoting pigment dispersing factor (PDF) neurons. These findings are consistent with increased GABAergic transmission to PDF neurons being mainly responsible for the enhanced nighttime sleep of GEFS+ mutants. Additionally, analyses under other light conditions suggested that the GEFS+ mutation led to reduced buffering of behavioral responses to light on and off stimuli, which contributed to characteristic GEFS+ sleep phenotypes. We further found that GEFS+ mutants had normal circadian rhythms in free-running dark conditions. Interestingly, the mutants lacked a homeostatic rebound following mechanical sleep deprivation, and whereas deprivation treatment increased heat-induced seizure susceptibility in control flies, it unexpectedly reduced seizure activity in GEFS+ mutants. Our study has revealed the sleep architecture of a Drosophila VGSC mutant that harbors a human GEFS+ mutation, and provided unique insight into the relationship between sleep and epilepsy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Genetically Modified
  • Circadian Rhythm
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Disease Susceptibility
  • Drosophila Proteins / genetics
  • Drosophila Proteins / metabolism
  • Epilepsy / etiology*
  • Epilepsy / physiopathology*
  • Epilepsy, Generalized / etiology
  • Epilepsy, Generalized / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Homeostasis* / genetics
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mutation
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Phenotype
  • Photoperiod*
  • Receptors, GABA-A / genetics
  • Receptors, GABA-A / metabolism
  • Seizures, Febrile / etiology
  • Seizures, Febrile / physiopathology
  • Sleep / drug effects
  • Sleep Deprivation* / genetics
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / metabolism


  • Drosophila Proteins
  • Rdl protein, Drosophila
  • Receptors, GABA-A
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid

Supplementary concepts

  • Generalized Epilepsy With Febrile Seizures Plus, Type 1