Potential Role of Drug Transporters in the Pathogenesis of Medically Intractable Epilepsy


Address correspondence and reprint requests to Dr. P. Kwan at Division of Neurology, Department of Medicine & Therapeutics, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Prince of Wales Hospital, Shatin, Hong Kong. E-mail: patrickkwan@cuhk.edu.hk


Summary:  The pathogenesis underlying pharmacoresistance in epilepsy is unclear. One of the candidate mechanisms that has attracted growing interest is the limitation of antiepileptic drug (AED) access to the seizure focus by a range of efflux transporters, the prototype of which is P-glycoprotein (P-gp). P-gp is encoded by the multidrug resistance (MDR1 or ABCB1) gene. Predominantly expressed in organs with excretory functions and at blood–tissue barriers, P-gp is thought to act as a physiologic defense by extruding xenobiotics from mammalian cells and affording protection of sensitive organs. The high level of P-gp in the cerebrovascular endothelium is believed to contribute to the functionality of the blood–brain barrier. Overexpression of P-gp causes multidrug resistance in certain cancers. It has been hypothesized that overexpression of P-gp and other efflux transporters in the cerebrovascular endothelium, in the region of the epileptic focus, also may lead to drug resistance in epilepsy. This hypothesis is supported by the findings of elevated expression of efflux transporters in epileptic foci in patients with drug-resistant epilepsy, induction of expression by seizures in animal models, and experimental evidence that some commonly used AEDs are substrates. Conflicting reports suggest a possible association between variants of the MDR1 gene and medical intractability in epilepsy. Further studies to delineate the exact role, if any, of P-gp and other efflux transporters in drug-resistant epilepsy are warranted.