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Clinical Implications of Basic Neuroscience Research
August 2016

Molecular Pathogenic Basis for GABRG2 Mutations Associated With a Spectrum of Epilepsy Syndromes, From Generalized Absence Epilepsy to Dravet Syndrome

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Neurology, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee
  • 2Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee
  • 3Department of Pharmacology, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee
JAMA Neurol. 2016;73(8):1009-1016. doi:10.1001/jamaneurol.2016.0449

Objective  In this review article, we focus on the molecular pathogenic basis for genetic generalized epilepsies associated with mutations in the inhibitory γ-aminobutyric acid (GABAA) receptor γ2 subunit gene, GABRG2 (OMIM 137164), an established epilepsy gene.

Observations  The γ-aminobutyric acid (GABAA) receptor γ2 subunit gene, GABRG2, is abundantly expressed in the mammalian brain, and its encoded γ2 subunit is assembled into αβγ2 receptors, which are the major GABAA receptor isoforms in the brain. The γ2 subunits have a critical role in GABAA receptor trafficking and clustering at synapses. They reside inside the endoplasmic reticulum after synthesis, where they oligomerize with other binding partners, such as α and β subunits, and further assemble into pentameric receptors. Only correctly assembled receptors can traffic beyond the endoplasmic reticulum and reach the cell surface and synapses, where they conduct chloride ion current when activated by GABA. Mutations in GABRG2 have been associated with simple febrile seizures and with genetic epilepsy syndromes, including childhood absence epilepsy, generalized epilepsy with febrile seizures plus, and Dravet syndrome or severe myoclonic epilepsy in infancy. The mutations include missense, nonsense, and frameshift mutations, as well as splice-site and deletion mutations. The mutations have been identified in both coding and noncoding sequences like splice sites. In the coding sequence, these mutations are found in multiple locations, including the extracellular N-terminus, transmembrane domains, and transmembrane 3–transmembrane 4 intracellular loop. All of these mutations reduced channel function but to different extents and by diverse mechanisms, including nonsense-mediated messenger RNA decay, endoplasmic reticulum–associated protein degradation, dominant negative suppression of partnering subunits, mutant subunit aggregation causing cell stress and cell death, and gating defects.

Conclusions and Relevance  We conclude that the epilepsy phenotypic heterogeneity associated with GABRG2 mutations may be related to the extent of the reduction of GABAA receptor channel function and the differential dominant negative suppression, as well to toxicity related to the metabolism of mutant subunit proteins resulting from each mutant γ2 subunit, in addition to different genetic backgrounds.