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Epilepsy Res. 2005 May;64(3):77-84.

An epilepsy mutation in the beta1 subunit of the voltage-gated sodium channel results in reduced channel sensitivity to phenytoin.

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  • 1Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University, 3801 University Street, Montreal, Que., Canada H3A 2B4.


The antiepileptic drug phenytoin inhibits voltage-gated sodium channels. Phenytoin block is enhanced at depolarized membrane potentials and during high frequency channel activation. These properties, which are important for the clinical efficacy of the drug, depend on voltage-dependent channel gating. In this study, we examined the action of phenytoin on sodium channels, comprising a mutant auxiliary beta1 subunit (mutation C121Wbeta1), which causes the inherited epilepsy syndrome, generalized epilepsy with febrile seizures plus (GEFS+). Whole cell sodium currents in Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells coexpressing human Na(v)1.3 sodium channels and C121Wbeta1 exhibited altered gating properties, compared to currents in cells coexpressing Na(v)1.3 and wild type beta1. In addition mutant channels were less sensitive to inhibition by phenytoin, showing reduced tonic block at -70mV (EC(50)=26microM for C121Wbeta1 versus 11microM for wild type beta1) and less frequency-dependent inhibition in response to a 20Hz pulse train ( approximately 40% inhibition for C121Wbeta1 versus approximately 70% inhibition for wild type beta1, with 50microM phenytoin). Mutant and wild type channels did not differ in inactivated state affinity for phenytoin, suggesting that their pharmacological differences were secondary to their differences in voltage-dependent gating, rather than being caused by direct effects of the mutation on the drug receptor. Together, these data show that a sodium channel mutation responsible for epilepsy can also alter channel response to antiepileptic drugs.

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