Gabra2 is a genetic modifier of Scn8a encephalopathy in the mouse

Epilepsia. 2020 Dec;61(12):2847-2856. doi: 10.1111/epi.16741. Epub 2020 Nov 2.


Objective: SCN8A encephalopathy is a developmental epileptic encephalopathy typically caused by de novo gain-of-function mutations in Nav 1.6. Severely affected individuals exhibit refractory seizures, developmental delay, cognitive disabilities, movement disorders, and elevated risk of sudden death. Patients with the identical SCN8A variant can differ in clinical course, suggesting a role for modifier genes in determining disease severity. The identification of genetic modifiers contributes to understanding disease pathogenesis and suggesting therapeutic interventions.

Methods: We generated F1 and F2 crosses between inbred mouse strains and mice carrying the human pathogenic variants SCN8A-R1872W and SCN8A-N1768D. Quantitative trait locus (QTL) analysis of seizure-related phenotypes was used for chromosomal mapping of modifier loci.

Results: In an F2 cross between strain SJL/J and C57BL/6J mice carrying the patient mutation R1872W, we identified a major QTL on chromosome 5 containing the Gabra2 gene. Strain C57BL/6J carries a splice site mutation that reduces expression of Gabra2, encoding the α2 subunit of the aminobutyric acid type A receptor. The protective wild-type allele of Gabra2 from strain SJL/J delays the age at seizure onset and extends life span of the Scn8a mutant mice. Additional Scn8a modifiers were observed in the F2 cross and in an F1 cross with strain C3HeB/FeJ.

Significance: These studies demonstrate that the SJL/J strain carries multiple modifiers with protective effects against seizures induced by gain-of-function mutations in Scn8a. Homozygosity for the hypomorphic variant of Gabra2 in strain C57BL/6J is associated with early seizure onset and short life span. GABRA2 is a potential therapeutic target for SCN8A encephalopathy.

Keywords: Gabra2; Scn8a; epilepsy; epileptic encephalopathy; genetic modifier; voltage-gated sodium channel.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chromosome Mapping
  • Epilepsy / genetics*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C3H
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Inbred Strains
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • NAV1.6 Voltage-Gated Sodium Channel / genetics
  • NAV1.6 Voltage-Gated Sodium Channel / physiology*
  • Quantitative Trait Loci / genetics
  • Receptors, GABA-A / genetics
  • Receptors, GABA-A / physiology*
  • Seizures / genetics


  • Gabra2 protein, mouse
  • NAV1.6 Voltage-Gated Sodium Channel
  • Receptors, GABA-A
  • Scn8a protein, mouse