α2δ proteins are membrane-anchored extracellular glycoproteins which are abundantly expressed in the brain and the peripheral nervous system. They serve as regulatory subunits of voltage-gated calcium channels and, particularly in nerve cells, regulate presynaptic and postsynaptic functions independently from their role as channel subunits. α2δ proteins are the targets of the widely prescribed anti-epileptic and anti-allodynic drugs gabapentin and pregabalin, particularly for the treatment of neuropathic pain conditions. Recently, the human genes (CACNA2D1-4) encoding for the four known α2δ proteins (isoforms α2δ-1 to α2δ-4) have been linked to a large variety of neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders including epilepsy, autism spectrum disorders, bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, and depressive disorders. Here, we provide an overview of the hitherto identified disease associations of all known α2δ genes, hypothesize on the pathophysiological mechanisms considering their known physiological roles, and discuss the most immanent future research questions. Elucidating their specific physiological and pathophysiological mechanisms may open the way for developing entirely novel therapeutic paradigms for treating brain disorders.
Keywords: Autism; CACNA2D1–4; Epilepsy; Neurological disease; Schizophrenia; Synapses.