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- Update on the Neurobiology of Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures

Update on the Neurobiology of Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures

Michael A Rogawski, MD, PhD

Epilepsy Research Section, Porter Neuroscience Research Center, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland

Abrupt cessation of alcohol intake after prolonged heavy drinking may trigger alcohol withdrawal seizures. Generalized tonic–clonic seizures are the most characteristic and severe type of seizure that occur in this setting. Generalized seizures also occur in rodent models of alcohol withdrawal. In these models, the withdrawal seizures are triggered by neuronal networks in the brainstem, including the inferior colliculus; similar brainstem mechanisms may contribute to alcohol withdrawal seizures in humans. Alcohol causes intoxication through effects on diverse ion channels and neurotransmitter receptors, including GABAA receptors—particularly those containing δ subunits that are localized extrasynaptically and mediate tonic inhibition—and N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors. Alcohol dependence results from compensatory changes during prolonged alcohol exposure, including internalization of GABAA receptors, which allows adaptation to these effects. Withdrawal seizures are believed to reflect unmasking of these changes and may also involve specific withdrawal-induced cellular events, such as rapid increases in α4 subunit–containing GABAA receptors that confer reduced inhibitory function. Optimizing approaches to the prevention of alcohol withdrawal seizures requires an understanding of the distinct neurobiologic mechanisms that underlie these seizures.

Source: Epilepsy Curr., vol 5(6) pp 225–230,  November 2005.

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