Levetiracetam has an activity-dependent effect on inhibitory transmission

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Previous work has shown that levetiracetam (LEV) binds the vesicular protein SV2A and reduces excitatory neurotransmitter release during trains of high-frequency activity, most likely by accessing its binding site through vesicular endocytosis into excitatory synaptic terminals. Because there are differences in excitatory and inhibitory transmitter release mechanisms, and there are suggestions that neurons differ in their SV2A expression, we were curious whether LEV also reduces inhibitory transmission.


We used patch-clamp recording from CA1 neurons in rat brain slices to quantify the effects of LEV on inhibitory postsynaptic currents (IPSCs). We were able to elicit pure IPSCs by stimulating inhibitory terminals close to neuronal soma and blocking excitatory postsynaptic currents with specific antagonists.

Key Findings:

We found that LEV reduces inhibitory currents in a frequency-dependent manner, with the largest relative effect on the later IPSCs in the highest frequency trains. However, in contrast to excitatory postsynaptic currents (EPSCs), LEV reduced IPSC trains after a briefer, 30 min incubation. When spontaneous activity during incubation was blocked with antagonists of excitatory transmission, LEV no longer reduced IPSCs. If slices were returned to LEV-free artificial cerebrospinal fluid (ACSF) after LEV incubation, but prior to recording, the IPSC reduction failed to appear. However, if synaptic activity was limited by treating with excitatory transmitter antagonists, after the initial LEV exposure, LEV still diminished trains of IPSC. The concentration required to diminish IPSC trains was lower than for EPSCs.


LEV exerts a qualitatively similar, frequency-dependent effect on both IPSCs and EPSCs. The much shorter latency for IPSC reduction is consistent with the greater levels of spontaneous inhibition in brain slices, supporting the hypothesis that vesicular uptake is necessary for the entry of LEVs into terminals. The vesicular entry of LEV resembles the cell entry pathways for tetanus and botulinum neurotoxins, but is unique for small, neuroactive drugs. Although the reduction of IPSC trains by LEV initially seems counterintuitive for an antiepileptic drug, there are multiple reasons that disruption of γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) release could ultimately attenuate pathologic discharges.

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