Paroxysmal muscle weakness - the familial periodic paralyses

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The familial periodic paralyses (PP) were commonly considered to be benign diseases since frequency and severity of the paralytic attacks decrease in adulthood. However, with increasing age, a third of the patients develop permanent weakness and muscle degeneration with fatty replacement. Another complication, cardiac arrhythmia, can result from the dyskalemia during paralytic attacks. The familial PP are typical dominant ion channelopathies: the function of the mutant muscular channel is compensated in the interictal state but defective under certain conditions which then cause flaccid weakness. A triggering factor is the level of serum potassium, the extracellular ion decisive for membrane excitability. In hyper- and hypokalemic periodic paralysis, the mutations are specifically located in the voltage-gated sodium and calcium channels which are essential for action potential generation or excitation-contraction coupling. The common mechanism for the membrane inexcitability during paralytic attacks is a transient membrane depolarization that inactivates the sodium channels which are then no longer available for action potential generation. For the third PP type, the Andersen syndrome, the responsible gene is also expressed in cardiac muscle, and, independently of paralytic attacks, the hazard of ventricular arrhythmias is inherent. The gene product, an inwardly rectifying potassium channel, is responsible for maintaining the resting membrane potential, and all known mutations cause dominant-negative effects on the tetrameric channel complexes. In this article the clinical consequences of the mutations and the therapeutic strategies for all three types of PP are reported.

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