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The bumetanide-sensitive Na-K-2Cl cotransporter NKCC1 as a potential target of a novel mechanism-based treatment strategy for neonatal seizures

Kristopher T. Kahle and Kevin J. Staley

Seizures that occur during the neonatal period do so with a greater frequency than at any other age, have profound consequences for cognitive and motor development, and are difficult to treat with the existing series of antiepileptic drugs. During development, γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA)ergic neurotransmission undergoes a switch from excitatory to inhibitory due to a reversal of neuronal chloride (Cl) gradients. The intracellular level of chloride ([Cl]i) in immature neonatal neurons, compared with mature adult neurons, is about 20–40 mM higher due to robust activity of the chloride-importing Na-K-2Cl cotransporter NKCC1, such that the binding of GABA to ligand-gated GABAA receptor-associated Cl channels triggers Cl efflux and depolarizing excitation. In adults, NKCC1 expression decreases and the expression of the genetically related chloride-extruding K-Cl cotransporter KCC2 increases, lowering [Cl]i to a level such that activation of GABAA receptors triggers Cl influx and inhibitory hyperpolarization. The excitatory action of GABA in neonates, while playing an important role in neuronal development and synaptogenesis, accounts for the decreased seizure threshold, increased seizure propensity, and poor efficacy of GABAergic anticonvulsants in this age group. Bumetanide, a furosemide-related diuretic already used to treat volume overload in neonates, is a specific inhibitor of NKCC1 at low doses, can switch the GABA equilibrium potential of immature neurons from depolarizing to hyperpolarizing, and has recently been shown to inhibit epileptic activity in vitro and in vivo in animal models of neonatal seizures. The fundamental role of NKCC1 in establishing excitatory GABAergic neurotransmission in the neonate makes it a tempting target of a novel mechanism-based anticonvulsant strategy that could utilize the well-known pharmacology of bumetanide to help treat neonatal seizures.