Intracortical Hyperexcitability in Humans with a GABAA Receptor Mutation

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A missense mutation of the γ2 subunit of the γ-aminobutyric acid A (GABAA) receptor has been linked to an inherited human generalized epilepsy. As synaptic inhibition in the human brain is largely mediated by the GABAA receptor, we tested the hypothesis that the GABRG2(R43Q) mutation alters cortical excitability. Fourteen subjects affected by the GABRG2(R43Q) mutation (5 males, mean age: 44 ± 15 years) and 24 controls (11 males, mean age: 38 ± 11 years) were studied with transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). To assess the specificity of the effect of the mutation, 4 additional family members unaffected by the GABRG2(R43Q) mutation (2 males, mean age: 41 ± 16 years) were included. Subjects affected by the GABRG2(R43Q) mutation demonstrated reduced net short-interval intracortical inhibition and increased intracortical facilitation assessed with paired-pulse stimulation. Subjects with the mutation had similar motor thresholds to controls both at rest and with weak voluntary activation. No significant differences were noted between groups in the cortical silent period. Our findings provide in vivo evidence for increased intracortical excitability in subjects affected by the GABRG2(R43Q) mutation. These findings are also likely to represent an important clue to the mechanisms linking this gene defect and the epilepsy phenotype.

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