A loss-of-function HCN4 mutation associated with familial benign myoclonic epilepsy in infancy causes increased neuronal excitability

Giulia Campostrini, Jacopo C. Difrancesco, Barbara Castellotti, Raffaella Milanesi, Tomaso Gnecchi-Ruscone, Mattia Bonzanni, Annalisa Bucchi, Mirko Baruscotti, Carlo Ferrarese, Silvana Franceschetti, Laura Canafoglia, Francesca Ragona, Elena Freri, Angelo Labate, Antonio Gambardella, Cinzia Costa, Cinzia Gellera, Tiziana Granata, Andrea Barbuti, Dario Difrancesco

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


HCN channels are highly expressed and functionally relevant in neurons and increasing evidence demonstrates their involvement in the etiology of human epilepsies. Among HCN isoforms, HCN4 is important in cardiac tissue, where it underlies pacemaker activity. Despite being expressed also in deep structures of the brain, mutations of this channel functionally shown to be associated with epilepsy have not been reported yet. Using Next Generation Sequencing for the screening of patients with idiopathic epilepsy, we identified the p.Arg550Cys (c.1648C>T) heterozygous mutation on HCN4 in two brothers affected by benign myoclonic epilepsy of infancy. Functional characterization in heterologous expression system and in neurons showed that the mutation determines a loss of function of HCN4 contribution to activity and an increase of neuronal discharge, potentially predisposing to epilepsy. Expressed in cardiomyocytes, mutant channels activate at slightly more negative voltages than wild-type (WT), in accordance with borderline bradycardia. While HCN4 variants have been frequently associated with cardiac arrhythmias, these data represent the first experimental evidence that functional alteration of HCN4 can also be involved in human epilepsy through a loss-of-function effect and associated increased neuronal excitability. Since HCN4 appears to be highly expressed in deep brain structures only early during development, our data provide a potential explanation for a link between dysfunctional HCN4 and infantile epilepsy. These findings suggest that it may be useful to include HCN4 screening to extend the knowledge of the genetic causes of infantile epilepsies, potentially paving the way for the identification of innovative therapeutic strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number269
JournalFrontiers in Molecular Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2018


  • Epilepsy
  • HCN4
  • Ion channels
  • Myoclonic epilepsy of infancy
  • Neuronal excitability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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