Genotype-phenotype correlations in SCN8A-related disorders reveal prognostic and therapeutic implications

Brain. 2022 Sep 14;145(9):2991-3009. doi: 10.1093/brain/awab321.


We report detailed functional analyses and genotype-phenotype correlations in 392 individuals carrying disease-causing variants in SCN8A, encoding the voltage-gated Na+ channel Nav1.6, with the aim of describing clinical phenotypes related to functional effects. Six different clinical subgroups were identified: Group 1, benign familial infantile epilepsy (n = 15, normal cognition, treatable seizures); Group 2, intermediate epilepsy (n = 33, mild intellectual disability, partially pharmaco-responsive); Group 3, developmental and epileptic encephalopathy (n = 177, severe intellectual disability, majority pharmaco-resistant); Group 4, generalized epilepsy (n = 20, mild to moderate intellectual disability, frequently with absence seizures); Group 5, unclassifiable epilepsy (n = 127); and Group 6, neurodevelopmental disorder without epilepsy (n = 20, mild to moderate intellectual disability). Those in Groups 1-3 presented with focal or multifocal seizures (median age of onset: 4 months) and focal epileptiform discharges, whereas the onset of seizures in patients with generalized epilepsy was later (median: 42 months) with generalized epileptiform discharges. We performed functional studies expressing missense variants in ND7/23 neuroblastoma cells and primary neuronal cultures using recombinant tetrodotoxin-insensitive human Nav1.6 channels and whole-cell patch-clamping. Two variants causing developmental and epileptic encephalopathy showed a strong gain-of-function (hyperpolarizing shift of steady-state activation, strongly increased neuronal firing rate) and one variant causing benign familial infantile epilepsy or intermediate epilepsy showed a mild gain-of-function (defective fast inactivation, less increased firing). In contrast, all three variants causing generalized epilepsy induced a loss-of-function (reduced current amplitudes, depolarizing shift of steady-state activation, reduced neuronal firing). Functional effects were known for 170 individuals. All 136 individuals carrying a functionally tested gain-of-function variant had either focal (n = 97, Groups 1-3) or unclassifiable (n = 39) epilepsy, whereas 34 individuals with a loss-of-function variant had either generalized (n = 14), no (n = 11) or unclassifiable (n = 6) epilepsy; only three had developmental and epileptic encephalopathy. Computational modelling in the gain-of-function group revealed a significant correlation between the severity of the electrophysiological and clinical phenotypes. Gain-of-function variant carriers responded significantly better to sodium channel blockers than to other anti-seizure medications, and the same applied for all individuals in Groups 1-3. In conclusion, our data reveal clear genotype-phenotype correlations between age at seizure onset, type of epilepsy and gain- or loss-of-function effects of SCN8A variants. Generalized epilepsy with absence seizures is the main epilepsy phenotype of loss-of-function variant carriers and the extent of the electrophysiological dysfunction of the gain-of-function variants is a main determinant of the severity of the clinical phenotype in focal epilepsies. Our pharmacological data indicate that sodium channel blockers present a treatment option in SCN8A-related focal epilepsy with onset in the first year of life.

Keywords: SCN8A; epilepsy; genetics; personalized medicine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Epilepsy, Generalized* / drug therapy
  • Epilepsy, Generalized* / genetics
  • Epileptic Syndromes* / drug therapy
  • Epileptic Syndromes* / genetics
  • Genetic Association Studies
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Intellectual Disability* / genetics
  • Mutation
  • NAV1.6 Voltage-Gated Sodium Channel* / genetics
  • Prognosis
  • Seizures / drug therapy
  • Seizures / genetics
  • Sodium Channel Blockers / therapeutic use


  • NAV1.6 Voltage-Gated Sodium Channel
  • SCN8A protein, human
  • Sodium Channel Blockers

Associated data

  • figshare/10.6084/m9.figshare.15141018