Antiepileptic drugs and agents that inhibit voltage-gated sodium channels prevent NMDA antagonist neurotoxicity

N. B. Farber, X. P. Jiang, C. Heinkel, B. Nemmers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

99 Scopus citations


N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) glutamate receptor antagonists are used in clinical anesthesia and are being developed as therapeutic agents for preventing neurodegeneration in stroke, epilepsy, and brain trauma. However, the ability of these agents to produce neurotoxicity in adult rats and psychosis in adult humans compromises their clinical usefulness. In addition, an NMDA receptor hypofunction (NRHypo) state might play a role in neurodegenerative and psychotic disorders, like Alzheimer's disease, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Thus, developing pharmacological means of preventing these NRHypo-induced effects could have significant clinically relevant benefits. NRHypo neurotoxicity appears to be mediated by a complex disinhibition mechanism that results in the excessive stimulation of certain vulnerable neurons. Here we report our findings that five agents (phenytoin, carbamazepine, valproic acid, lamotrigine, and riluzole), thought to possess anticonvulsant activity because they inhibit voltage-gated sodium channels, prevent NRHypo neurotoxicity. The ability of tetrodotoxin, a highly selective inhibitor of voltage-gated sodium channels, to prevent the same neurotoxicity suggests that inhibition of this ion channel is the likely mechanism of action of these five agents. We also found that three other anticonvulsants (felbamate, gabapentin and ethosuximide), whose mechanism is less clear, also prevent NRHypo neurotoxicity, suggesting that inhibition of voltage-gated sodium channels is not the only mechanism via which anticonvulsants can act to prevent NRHypo neurotoxicity. Several of these agents have been found to be of clinical use in bipolar disorder. It would be of interest to determine whether these agents might have therapeutic benefits for conditions in which a NRHypo state may exist.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)726-733
Number of pages8
JournalMolecular Psychiatry
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2002


  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Dissociative anesthetics
  • MK-801
  • Neurodegeneration
  • Psychosis
  • Rats
  • Retrosplenial cortex
  • Schizophrenia
  • Voltage gated Na channel inhibitors


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