HCN1 Gene Mutation and Epilepsy

By:  Shree Rath

Photo Credit: www.depositphotos.com

HCN1: The gene and protein

The HCN1 gene, also known as potassium/sodium hyperpolarization-activated cyclic nucleotide-gated channel, is a gene that encodes a protein involved in ion channel activity in neurons, exhibiting weak selectivity for potassium over sodium ions. It contributes to the native pacemaker currents in heart and in neurons. It may also mediate responses to sour stimuli. It is located on chromosome 5 (5p12).

HCN1 channels are highly expressed in various regions of the brain, including the cortex, hippocampus, thalamus, and cerebellum. They regulate the resting membrane potential of neurons, contribute to dendritic integration of synaptic inputs, and influence neuronal excitability and firing patterns.


Mutations in the HCN1 gene have been implicated in certain neurological disorders, particularly epilepsy. It is associated with early infantile epileptic encephalopathy, a disorder also known as Dravet-like syndrome. The mutation involved is a gain of function mutation. Febrile seizures are a common type of seizure that occurs in young children during fever. Mutations in the HCN1 gene have been identified in some individuals with febrile seizures, suggesting a genetic predisposition to this condition. HCN1 gene mutations have also been linked to generalized epilepsy, which involves seizures that affect both sides of the brain and can involve loss of consciousness. These mutations may disrupt the normal function of HCN1 channels, leading to abnormal neuronal excitability and seizure susceptibility.

HCN1 Epileptic Encephalopathy

Epileptic encephalopathy associated with HCN1 gene mutations can present with a range of clinical features and seizure types. The onset of epileptic encephalopathy associated with HCN1 mutations can vary, but it often occurs early in life, typically in infancy or early childhood. The condition is characterized by a progressive and severe course, with worsening neurological symptoms over time. Individuals with HCN1-related epileptic encephalopathy may experience a variety of seizure types, including focal seizures, generalized tonic-clonic seizures, myoclonic seizures, and atypical absence seizures. Seizures can be frequent, prolonged, and resistant to treatment. Febrile seizures, which occur in response to fever, are a common presentation in HCN1 epileptic encephalopathy. These seizures may be prolonged and associated with fever-related illnesses, leading to an increased risk of status epilepticus.

A hallmark feature of epileptic encephalopathies is developmental regression, where individuals experience loss of previously acquired developmental milestones, such as language skills, motor abilities, and social interactions. The regression is often profound and can lead to significant intellectual disability. This feature is very close to that of Dravet Syndrome, hence the name Dravet-like syndrome.

HCN1-related epileptic encephalopathy can manifest with behavioral abnormalities, including hyperactivity, impulsivity, aggression, and autistic features. Cognitive impairment is common and ranges from mild to severe, impacting learning, memory, and executive function.


Diagnosing HCN1 epileptic encephalopathy involves a comprehensive approach that includes clinical evaluation, neuroimaging studies, electroencephalogram (EEG) recordings, and genetic testing.

The diagnostic process begins with a thorough clinical evaluation by a healthcare provider specializing in neurology or epilepsy. This evaluation includes gathering information about the patient’s medical history, developmental milestones, seizure types and frequency, neurological symptoms, family history of epilepsy or neurological disorders, and any other relevant clinical findings.

Imaging studies, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain, are often performed to assess for structural abnormalities or lesions that may be contributing to the patient’s symptoms. MRI can help rule out other causes of epilepsy and provide valuable information about brain anatomy.

EEG can detect abnormal electrical activity in the brain, such as epileptiform discharges, slow background activity, and interictal abnormalities. It can also capture seizure activity and help characterize seizure types.

Targeted genetic testing or whole-exome sequencing may be used to identify mutations in the HCN1 gene or other genes associated with epileptic encephalopathies.


  • Antiepileptic Medications: The primary goal is to achieve seizure control and reduce seizure frequency. Antiepileptic medications, such as valproate, levetiracetam, lamotrigine, or other appropriate agents based on the patient’s seizure type and response, may be prescribed.
  • Developmental Support: Given the developmental regression and cognitive impairment associated with HCN1 epileptic encephalopathy, early intervention services, developmental therapies (such as speech therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy), and educational support are crucial to optimize the patient’s developmental outcomes.
  • Behavioral Interventions: Behavioral therapies, including applied behavior analysis (ABA) and behavior modification techniques, may be beneficial in managing behavioral challenges, improving social skills, and addressing hyperactivity or aggression.
  • Genetic Testing: Genetic testing may also be recommended for family members to identify carriers of HCN1 mutations and provide information about their risk of passing the condition to offspring.


Alberti J, DiFrancesco D. Dysfunctional HCN ion channels in neurological diseases. Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience. 2015;6. doi:10.3389/fncel.2015.00071

HCN1 hyperpolarization activated cyclic nucleotide gated potassium channel 1 [Homo sapiens (human)] – Gene – NCBI. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/gene/348980

Nava C, Dalle C, Rastetter A, et al. De novo mutations in HCN1 cause early infantile epileptic encephalopathy. Nat Genet. 2014;46(6):640-645. doi:10.1038/ng.2952

STRING. STRING: functional protein association networks. STRING. Published July 26, 2023. https://string-db.org/

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