The mitochondrial epilepsies

Eur J Paediatr Neurol. 2020 Jan;24:47-52. doi: 10.1016/j.ejpn.2019.12.021. Epub 2020 Jan 7.


Mitochondria are vital organelles within cells that undertake many important metabolic roles, the most significant of which is to generate energy to support organ function. Dysfunction of the mitochondrion can lead to a wide range of clinical features, predominantly affecting organs with a high metabolic demand such as the brain. One of the main neurological manifestations of mitochondrial disease is metabolic epilepsies. These epileptic seizures are more frequently of posterior quadrant and occipital lobe onset, more likely to present with non-convulsive status epilepticus which may last months and be more resistant to treatment from the onset. The onset of can be of any age. Childhood onset epilepsy is a major phenotypic feature in mitochondrial disorders such as Alpers-Huttenlocher syndrome, pyruvate dehydrogenase complex deficiencies, and Leigh syndrome. Meanwhile, adults with classical mitochondrial disease syndrome such as MELAS, MERFF or POLG-related disorders could present with either focal or generalised seizures. There are no specific curative treatments for mitochondrial epilepsy. Generally, the epileptic seizures should be managed by specialist neurologist with appropriate use of anticonvulsants. As a general rule, especially in disorders associated with mutation in POLG, sodium valproate is best avoided because hepato-toxicity can be fulminant and fatal.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anticonvulsants / adverse effects
  • Anticonvulsants / therapeutic use*
  • Epilepsy / complications*
  • Epilepsy / drug therapy*
  • Humans
  • Mitochondrial Diseases / complications
  • Mitochondrial Diseases / drug therapy*


  • Anticonvulsants