Genetic Variant in Nicotinic Receptor α4-Subunit Causes Sleep-Related Hyperkinetic Epilepsy via Increased Channel Opening

Int J Mol Sci. 2022 Oct 12;23(20):12124. doi: 10.3390/ijms232012124.


We describe genetic and molecular-level functional alterations in the α4β2 neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) from a patient with sleep-related hyperkinetic epilepsy and a family history of epilepsy. Genetic sequencing revealed a heterozygous variant c.851C>G in the CHRNA4 gene encoding the α4 subunit, resulting in the missense mutation p.Ser284Trp. Patch clamp recordings from genetically engineered nAChRs incorporating the α4-Ser284Trp subunit revealed aberrant channel openings in the absence of agonist and markedly prolonged openings in its presence. Measurements of single channel current amplitude distinguished two pentameric stoichiometries of the variant nAChR containing either two or three copies of the α4-Ser284Trp subunit, each exhibiting aberrant spontaneous and prolonged agonist-elicited channel openings. The α4-Ser284 residue is highly conserved and located within the M2 transmembrane α-helix that lines the ion channel. When mapped onto the receptor’s three-dimensional structure, the larger Trp substitution sterically clashes with the M2 α-helix from the neighboring subunit, promoting expansion of the pore and stabilizing the open relative to the closed conformation of the channel. Together, the clinical, genetic, functional, and structural observations demonstrate that α4-Ser284Trp enhances channel opening, predicting increased membrane excitability and a pathogenic seizure phenotype.

Keywords: gain-of-function variant; ion-channel conductance; ion-channel gating; neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor; patch-clamp; single ion-channel; sleep-related hyperkinetic epilepsy; spontaneous channel gating.

MeSH terms

  • Cell Membrane
  • Oocytes / physiology
  • Receptors, Nicotinic* / chemistry
  • Receptors, Nicotinic* / genetics
  • Sleep


  • Receptors, Nicotinic