Epilepsy

Cannabidiol: mechanisms and efficacy in medically refractory epilepsy

Virginia Thornley, M.D., Neurologist, Epileptologist

March 9, 2018

Introduction

One of the most challenging therapeutic goals are to keep patients with epilepsy seizure free. Once a patient is found to be medically refractory, it is not unusual to find patients on 3-4 medications for seizure control. However, oftentimes, the means to the end is often wrought with its own challenges with patients suffering side effects placing their quality of life secondary to the medical control of their condition. More and more patients and their families are turning towards a more naturalistic approach including diet and cannabidiol use which has fewer side effects as a means to control seizures. The literature is fraught with a paucity of scientific data with small clinical trials, animal models, and anecdotal data. Larger clinical randomized control trials are pursued.

29727_414398828840_12315_n

Mechanisms of Cannabidiol and THC

In the brain, there is the natural endocannabinoid system. Endocannabinoids are released after exercise referred to as the runner’s high which contributes towards our sense of well-being. In the endocannabinoid pathway, cannabidiol has a low affinity to the CB1 receptor and modulates THC tetrahydrocannabinol by blocking CB1 receptor. It is thought to modulate THC by blocking the CB1 receptor acting as an inverse CB1 agonist (2). This may be the mechanism behind combining CBD with THC, CBD modulates the side effects of THC making it less available to exert its effects. Delta9THC is found to work at the level of the CB1 receptors which are rich in the brain and CB2 receptor which is more predominant in the immune system. THC can bind to other targets exerting inflammatory properties. CBD has less binding capabilities to CB1 receptors and is thought to exert its effect by working through other mechanisms such as voltage-gated potassium and sodium channels and the GRP55 in controlling seizures. Cannabinoids are lipid binding or lipophilic making it less available within the system making it challenging to deliver (3).

Cannabidiol clinical trials

In one study, 216 patients were enrolled and followed 3 months after administration of the first dose cannabidiol. Initially, the dose was 2mg/kg which was titrated up to 50mg/kg. 76% were enrolled in the safety profile study and 64% were enrolled in the efficacy profile study. In the first group for safety, 20% had Dravet syndrome and 19% had Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. Side effects were noted in 79% of the patients in the safety group. These include somnolence, diarrhea, seizures (11%), fatigue and reduced appetite. Five disenrolled due to adverse effects, 30% had serious side effects including 1 death of consisting sudden death syndrome. 12% had serious side effects including status epilepticus which may have been related to cannabidiol use. The median reduction of seizures was 36.5%. The study concluded that cannabidiol may be an effective strategy for reducing seizures in medically refractory seizures. The flaw with the study is that the doses at the higher end may have been too high for the patients to tolerate, a lower titrated dose may have been equally effective in controlling seizures and minimizing side effects. Nevertheless, the results were promising as it proves to be beneficial in controlling some of the seizures.

About

Introduction/Disclaimer

https://neurologybuzz.com/

References

  1. Devinsky, et al, “Cannabidiol in patients with treatment-resistant epilepsy: an open-label interventional trial,” Lancet Neurology, 2016, Mar., 15(3):270-280.
  2. McPartland, et al, “Are cannabidiol and 9 delta tetrahydrocannabivarin negative modulators of the endocannabinoid system? A systematic review,” British Journal of Pharmacology, 2015, Feb., 172(3):737-53.
  3. Gaston, et al, “Pharmacology of cannabinoids in the treatment of epilepsy,” Epilepsy Behavior, 2017, May, 70(Pt B):313-318.

 

Standard
Epilepsy, Uncategorized

Dravet syndrome: clinical course, SCN1A genetic abnormality involved and non-pharmacologic options including ketogenic diet and cannabidiol

By: Virginia Thornley, M.D., Epileptologist, General Neurologist

February 20, 2018

Dravet first described the syndrome that now bears his name in 1978. It is now a model for some of the channelopathies seen manifesting as epilepsy.

Clinical course and electroencephalographic manifestations

Dravet syndrome is also known as the severe myoclonic epilepsy in infancy (SMEI). Patients usually have no delay in development prior to the first seizure. It usually starts between 5-8 months of life another report mentions after 2nd year of life and may follow a febrile seizure. It consists of generalized tonic-clonic seizures and myoclonus. The term severe myocolic epilepsy of infancy (SMEI) is a misnomer as some patients with this gene related disorder may not manifest with myoclonus so Dravet syndrome is preferred. Clinical evolution includes an initial presentation of generalized tonic-clonic seizures evolving into multiple seizure types predominantly myoclonus. Complex partial seizures, focal seizures, and atypical absence seizures may be identified. Myoclonus is seen about 2 years of age and eventually disappears. The generalized type of seizures persists into adulthood. The EEG background becomes progressively slower, with poor organization. There is the presence of excessive frontal theta rhythms and discharges consist of spike, spike and wave and polyspike and wave complexes. There is sensitivity to fevers. It is usually associated with cognitive impairment. Lifespan is unclear as case series are not reported on those after 20 years of age (1).

SCN1A gene

Dravet syndrome is found to be one of the SCN1A-related disorders causing seizures. Genetic testing reveals a heterozygous variant of SCN1A. SCN1A encodes Nav1.1 or the alpha subunit of the voltage-gated sodium channel. Seizures related to this channel are channelopathies. Due to the molecular abnormality at the level of the channel, there is hyperexcitability due to the imbalance of excitation versus inhibition because of neuronal dysfunction at the level of the sodium channel. The SCN1A is encoded on chromosome 2q24 which also includes SCN2A and SCN3A. In epilepsy-associated variants which are all found in the Nav1.1 alpha subunit, they are more frequently found in the C-terminus, and some in the N-terminus. In Dravet syndrome, nearly 50% are truncating variants, while others are splice, missense or deletion types of abnormalities.  The pathophysiology is an area under intense investigation but likely due to loss of the excitability of inhibitory function of the GABAergic pathway causing seizures(4).

Non-pharmacologic ways to deal with conditions of Dravet syndrome

Anti-convulsants to avoid

Prescription agents are not discussed as new agents become available year to year. However, there are medications that should be avoided including carbamazepine, lamotrigine, vigabatrin, and phenytoin. Rufinamide is a similar agent to carbamazepine and could theoretically worsen this condition. Sodium channel blockers like these worsen these types of seizure. In Dravet syndrome,  there is an abnormality of voltage-gated sodium channel Nav1.1, where one would think there would be fewer seizures following the thinking that sodium channel blockers are used anticonvulsants. However, with the sodium channel abnormality in SCN1A seizure disorders, there is more inhibition of the GABAergic pathway which keeps seizures in check thus, there are more excitatory neurotransmitters available causing seizures to occur(4).

Ketogenic diet and mechanisms of action

The ketogenic diet has been found to improve the condition. With ketogenesis, instead of glucose being used as a substrate for seizures, there are increased ketones available from a high fatty acid diet in the body meaning less available glucose that helps keep up the metabolism required with energy expenditure used in seizures. The body uses ketones as the fuel source. Ketogenesis occurs with natural fasting when the body breaks down fat through lipolysis. Then, the fatty acids produced undergo beta-oxidation into ketone bodies (acetoacetate, beta-hydroxybutyrate, and acetone) which are used to produce energy ATP (adenosine triphosphate) used by the cells(3). The ketogenic diet mimics this natural process by using a high fat low carbohydrate diet so that instead of glucose the body uses fatty acids which turn into ketones used as a fuel source which is not conducive to seizures.  With ketogenic diet as a therapeutic option, it is key to see a dietician as the diet is strictly high fat. It is based on a tightly regimented all or none principle otherwise it will not work. Most patients eventually find the diet highly unpalatable and may give up. However, if followed faithfully, it may be a viable non-pharmacologic additional option in medically refractory patients with seizures. One study found a 62% reduction rate in Dravet syndrome using the ketogenic diet(2). In the study, the EEG significantly improved and a favorable outcome was seen in those with a shorter duration of the condition and those with generalized tonic-clonic seizures. However, like most studies of rare diseases the number studied was small.

10429450_10152610208453841_6861894890174598213_n

Other mechanisms proposed include changing the pH of the brain making it less favorable for the production of seizures, direct inhibition of ion channels by ketone bodies, and changes in amino acid metabolism to favoring GABAergic synthesis which is inhibitory to seizures.

Cannabidiol in Dravet syndrome

One study examining the effects of cannabidiol (CBD) on Dravet syndrome postulate mechanisms including increasing excitation of the inhibitory effect of the hippocampus where seizures are propagated.  At low doses, it helps with autism and impaired cognition.  It may exert its effect by working against GPR55. The effects of CBD on neurotransmitters were similar to the GPR55 antagonist suggesting CBD works at the level of this lipid-activating G-protein coupled receptor(5).

Consult with your neurologist.

About

Introduction/Disclaimer

https://neurologybuzz.com/

 

References

1. Akiyama, et al, “Dravet Syndrome: A Genetic Epileptic Disorder,”Acta Med. Okayama, 2012, 66(5):369-376.

2. Dressler, et al, “Long-term outcome and tolerability of ketogenic diet in childhood epilepsy— the Austrian experience,”Seizure, 2010, Sept., 19(17):404-408.

3. Maranano, et al, “The ketogenic diet: uses in seizures and other neurologic illness,” Current Treatment Options in Neurology, 2008, Nov., 10(6)410-419.

4. Miller, et al, “SCN1A-Related Seizure Disorder,” Gene Reviews, 2007, Nov., Updated 2014, May.

5. Kaplan, et al, “Cannabidiol attenuates seizures and social deficits in a mouse model in Dravet syndrome,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 2017, Oct.

 

Standard