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Epilepsia. 2012 Dec;53 Suppl 7:26-33. doi: 10.1111/j.1528-1167.2012.03712.x.

Why are antiepileptic drugs used for nonepileptic conditions?

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Institute for Drug Research, School of Pharmacy, Faculty of Medicine, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Israel.


Antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) are used to treat various nonepileptic central nervous system (CNS) disorders, both in neurology and psychiatry. Most AEDs have multiple mechanisms of action (MOAs), which include modulation of γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA)ergic and glutamatergic neurotransmission, and alteration of voltage-gated ion channels or intracellular signaling pathways. These MOAs may explain the efficacy of AEDs in the treatment of bipolar disorder and neuropathic pain. Bipolar disorder and epilepsy have some common features, such as their episodic nature and associated kindling phenomena, which led to the regulatory approval and use of the AEDs carbamazepine (CBZ), valproic acid (VPA), and lamotrigine (LTG) in the treatment of bipolar disorder. A major limitation for the development of drugs with improved mood-stabilizing activity is the lack of knowledge on the mechanism of treatment for bipolar disorder. In contrast to epilepsy, no animal models in bipolar disorder are universally accepted and no model is able to exhibit the characteristic mood swings. Although most AEDs have now been investigated for their mood-stabilizing effects, only three (e.g., VPA, CBZ, and LTG) demonstrated clinical efficacy in patients. This suggests that the mechanism of drug action in mood disorder and in epilepsy only partially overlaps. Peripheral nerve damage leads to the initiation of cellular and molecular changes in the nervous system resulting in ectopic, repetitive firing perceived as chronic pain. Epileptic seizures are also characterized by hyperexcitability of neurons in the brain. The spontaneous electrogenesis in neuropathic pain has similarities to that of epilepsy. Alteration in sodium channels expression suggests that the mechanism underlying epileptic hyperexcitability may be similar to those underlying neuropathic pain. The AEDs gabapentin (GBP) and pregabalin (PGB) have become the mainstay of treatment for various neuropathic pain syndromes, owing to their ability to inhibit neuronal hyperactivity along the pain pathways. One explanation for how GBP and PGB relieve neuropathic pain is that they bind selectively to the Ca(+2) -channel subunit α2-δ in muscle tissue and brain. With 16 new AEDs having entered the market since 1990 the antiepileptic market is crowded. Consequently, epilepsy alone is not attractive in 2012 to the pharmaceutical industry, even though the clinical needs of refractory epilepsy remain unmet. Due to this situation, the future design of new AEDs must also include a potential in nonepileptic CNS disorders, such as bipolar disorder and neuropathic pain. The global market size of each of these two indications is similar to that of epilepsy, whereas they both currently have fewer approved drugs for treatment than epilepsy. Therefore, a new AED with additional approved indications in bipolar disorder and neuropathic pain might have a potential market size three times larger than that of epilepsy alone.

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