The mechanism of the anticonvulsant action of gabapentin has not been fully described. Though similar in structure to the endogenous neurotransmitter GABA, gabapentin has not been shown to bind to GABA receptors at concentrations at or below 1 mM. Gabapentin modulates the action of glutamate decarboxylase (GAD) and branched chain aminotransferase (BCAT), two enzymes involved in GABA biosynthesis. In human and rat studies, gabapentin was found to increase GABA biosynthesis, and to increase non-synaptic GABA neurotransmission in vitro.
Gabapentin (0.01-100 µM) has not been shown to interact with the sodium or L-type calcium ion channels targeted by the conventional anticonvulsant drugs phenytoin, carbamazepine and sodium valproate. Other neurophysiological findings indicate that gabapentin does not interact with glutamate, glycine, or NMDA receptors, further distinguishing its anticonvulsant mechanism from that of common antiepileptic medications.
Gabapentin was designed to mimic the neurotransmitter GABA. It does not, however, bind to GABA receptors. Its mechanism of action as an antiepileptic agent likely involves its inhibition of the alpha 2-delta subunit of voltage-gated calcium channels . It was first approved as an anticonvulsant in 1994 in the US and is now available worldwide. It was also approved in the US for postherpetic neuralgia in 2002 and is used commonly to treat neuropathic pain. Gabapentin is renally excreted and is not an enzyme-inducing anticonvulsant.
The chemical structure of gabapentin (Neurontin) is derived by addition of a cyclohexyl group to the backbone of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Gabapentin prevents seizures in a wide variety of models in animals, including generalized tonic-clonic and partial seizures. Gabapentin has no activity at GABAA or GABAB receptors of GABA uptake carriers of brain. Gabapentin interacts with a high-affinity binding site in brain membranes, which has recently been identified as an auxiliary subunit of voltage-sensitive Ca2+ channels. However, the functional correlate of gabapentin binding is unclear and remains under study. Gabapentin crosses several lipid membrane barriers via system L amino acid transporters. In vitro, gabapentin modulates the action of the GABA synthetic enzyme, glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD) and the glutamate synthesizing enzyme, branched-chain amino acid transaminase. Results with human and rat brain NMR spectroscopy indicate that gabapentin increases GABA synthesis. Gabapentin increases non-synaptic GABA responses from neuronal tissues in vitro. In vitro, gabapentin reduces the release of several mono-amine neurotransmitters. Gabapentin prevents pain responses in several animal models of hyperalgesia and prevents neuronal death in vitro and in vivo with models of the neurodegenerative disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Gabapentin is also active in models that detect anxiolytic activity. Although gabapentin may have several different pharmacological actions, it appears that modulation of GABA synthesis and glutamate synthesis may be important.