HCN1 mutation spectrum: from neonatal epileptic encephalopathy to benign generalized epilepsy and beyond

Brain. 2018 Nov 1;141(11):3160-3178. doi: 10.1093/brain/awy263.


Hyperpolarization-activated cyclic nucleotide-gated (HCN) channels control neuronal excitability and their dysfunction has been linked to epileptogenesis but few individuals with neurological disorders related to variants altering HCN channels have been reported so far. In 2014, we described five individuals with epileptic encephalopathy due to de novo HCN1 variants. To delineate HCN1-related disorders and investigate genotype-phenotype correlations further, we assembled a cohort of 33 unpublished patients with novel pathogenic or likely pathogenic variants: 19 probands carrying 14 different de novo mutations and four families with dominantly inherited variants segregating with epilepsy in 14 individuals, but not penetrant in six additional individuals. Sporadic patients had epilepsy with median onset at age 7 months and in 36% the first seizure occurred during a febrile illness. Overall, considering familial and sporadic patients, the predominant phenotypes were mild, including genetic generalized epilepsies and genetic epilepsy with febrile seizures plus (GEFS+) spectrum. About 20% manifested neonatal/infantile onset otherwise unclassified epileptic encephalopathy. The study also included eight patients with variants of unknown significance: one adopted patient had two HCN1 variants, four probands had intellectual disability without seizures, and three individuals had missense variants inherited from an asymptomatic parent. Of the 18 novel pathogenic missense variants identified, 12 were associated with severe phenotypes and clustered within or close to transmembrane domains, while variants segregating with milder phenotypes were located outside transmembrane domains, in the intracellular N- and C-terminal parts of the channel. Five recurrent variants were associated with similar phenotypes. Using whole-cell patch-clamp, we showed that the impact of 12 selected variants ranged from complete loss-of-function to significant shifts in activation kinetics and/or voltage dependence. Functional analysis of three different substitutions altering Gly391 revealed that these variants had different consequences on channel biophysical properties. The Gly391Asp variant, associated with the most severe, neonatal phenotype, also had the most severe impact on channel function. Molecular dynamics simulation on channel structure showed that homotetramers were not conducting ions because the permeation path was blocked by cation(s) strongly complexed to the Asp residue, whereas heterotetramers showed an instantaneous current component possibly linked to deformation of the channel pore. In conclusion, our results considerably expand the clinical spectrum related to HCN1 variants to include common generalized epilepsy phenotypes and further illustrate how HCN1 has a pivotal function in brain development and control of neuronal excitability.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Animals
  • CHO Cells
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cricetulus
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Epilepsy, Generalized / genetics*
  • Female
  • Genetic Association Studies
  • Humans
  • Hyperpolarization-Activated Cyclic Nucleotide-Gated Channels / genetics*
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Membrane Potentials / genetics
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Molecular
  • Mutagenesis, Site-Directed / methods
  • Mutation / genetics*
  • Potassium Channels / genetics*
  • Spasms, Infantile / genetics*
  • Young Adult


  • HCN1 protein, human
  • Hyperpolarization-Activated Cyclic Nucleotide-Gated Channels
  • Potassium Channels

Supplementary concepts

  • Infantile Epileptic-Dyskinetic Encephalopathy