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J Pharmacol Exp Ther. 2002 Apr;301(1):7-14.

Role of multidrug transporters in pharmacoresistance to antiepileptic drugs.

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Department of Pharmacology, Toxicology, and Pharmacy, School of Veterinary Medicine, Hannover, Germany.


Epilepsy, one of the most common neurologic disorders, is a major public health issue. Despite more than 20 approved antiepileptic drugs (AEDs), about 30% of patients are refractory to treatment. An important characteristic of pharmacoresistant epilepsy is that most patients with refractory epilepsy are resistant to several, if not all, AEDs, even though these drugs act by different mechanisms. This argues against epilepsy-induced alterations in specific drug targets as a major cause of pharmacoresistant epilepsy, but rather points to nonspecific and possibly adaptive mechanisms, such as decreased drug uptake into the brain by intrinsic or acquired over-expression of multidrug transporters in the blood-brain barrier (BBB). There is accumulating evidence demonstrating that multidrug transporters such as P-glycoprotein (PGP) and members of the multidrug resistance-associated protein (MRP) family are over-expressed in capillary endothelial cells and astrocytes in epileptogenic brain tissue surgically resected from patients with medically intractable epilepsy. PGP and MRPs in the BBB are thought to act as an active defense mechanism, restricting the penetration of lipophilic substances into the brain. A large variety of compounds, including many lipophilic drugs, are substrates for either PGP or MRPs or both. It is thus not astonishing that several AEDs, which have been made lipophilic to penetrate into the brain, seem to be substrates for multidrug transporters in the BBB. Over-expression of such transporters in epileptogenic tissue is thus likely to reduce the amount of drug that reaches the epileptic neurons, which would be a likely explanation for pharmacoresistance. PGP and MRPs can be blocked by specific inhibitors, which raises the option to use such inhibitors as adjunctive treatment for medically refractory epilepsy. However, although over-expression of multidrug transporters is a novel and reasonable hypothesis to explain multidrug resistance in epilepsy, further studies are needed to establish this concept. Furthermore, there are certainly other mechanisms of pharmacoresistance that need to be identified.

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