The hyperpolarization-activated I h current, coded for by hyperpolarization-activated, cyclic nucleotide-gated (HCN) channels, controls synaptic integration and intrinsic excitability in many brain areas. Because of their role in pacemaker function, defective HCN channels are natural candidates for contributing to epileptogenesis. Indeed, I h is pathologically altered after experimentally induced seizures, and several independent data indicate a link between dysfunctional HCN channels and different forms of epilepsy. However, direct evidence for functional changes of defective HCN channels correlating with the disease in human patients is still elusive. By screening families with epilepsy for mutations in Hcn1 and Hcn2 genes, we found a recessive loss-of-function point mutation in the gene coding for the HCN2 channel in a patient with sporadic idiopathic generalized epilepsy. Of 17 screened members of the same family, the proband was the only one affected and homozygous for the mutation. The mutation (E515K) is located in the C-linker, a region known to affect channel gating. Functional analysis revealed that homomeric mutant, but not heteromeric wild-type/mutant channels, have a strongly inhibited function caused by a large negative shift of activation range and slowed activation kinetics, effectively abolishing the HCN2 contribution to activity. After transfection into acutely isolated newborn rat cortical neurons, homomeric mutant, but not heteromeric wild type/mutant channels, lowered the threshold of action potential firing and strongly increased cell excitability and firing frequency when compared with wild-type channels. This is the first evidence in humans for a single-point, homozygous loss-of-function mutation in HCN2 potentially associated with generalized epilepsy with recessive inheritance.
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