M-channel activation contributes to the anticonvulsant action of the ketone body β-hydroxybutyrate

Rian Manville, Maria Papanikolaou, Geoffrey Abbott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Ketogenic diets are effective therapies for refractory epilepsy, yet the underlying mechanisms are incompletely understood. The anticonvulsant efficacy of ketogenic diets correlates positively to the serum concentration of β-hydroxybutyrate (BHB), the primary ketone body generated by ketosis. Voltage-gated potassium channels generated by KCNQ2-5 subunits, especially KCNQ2/3 heteromers, generate the M-current, a therapeutic target for synthetic anticonvulsants. Here, we report that BHB directly activates KCNQ2/3 channels (EC50 = 0.7 µM), via a highly conserved S5 tryptophan (W265) on KCNQ3. BHB was also acutely effective as an anticonvulsant in the pentylene tetrazole (PTZ) seizure assay in mice. Strikingly, coadministration of γ-amino-β-hydroxybutyric acid, a high-affinity KCNQ2/3 partial agonist that also acts via KCNQ3-W265, similarly reduced the efficacy of BHB in KCNQ2/3 channel activation in vitro and in the PTZ seizure assay in vivo. Our results uncover a novel, unexpected molecular basis for anticonvulsant effects of the major ketone body induced by ketosis. SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT: Ketogenic diets are used to treat refractory epilepsy but the therapeutic mechanism is not fully understood. Here, we show that clinically relevant concentrations of β-hydroxybutyrate, the primary ketone body generated during ketogenesis, activates KCNQ2/3 potassium channels by binding to a specific site on KCNQ3, an effect known to reduce neuronal excitability. We provide evidence using a mouse chemoconvulsant model that KCNQ2/3 activation contributes to the antiepileptic action of β-hydroxybutyrate.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)148-156
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 14 Jan 2020

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