The ups and downs of alkyl-carbamates in epilepsy therapy : How does cenobamate differ?
Since 1955, several alkyl-carbamates have been developed for the treatment of anxiety and epilepsy, including meprobamate, flupirtine, felbamate, retigabine, carisbamate, and cenobamate. They have each enjoyed varying levels of success as antiseizure drugs; however, they have all been plagued by the emergence of serious and sometimes life-threatening adverse events. In this review, we compare and contrast their predominant molecular mechanisms of action, their antiseizure profile, and where possible, their clinical efficacy. The preclinical, clinical, and mechanistic profile of the prototypical γ-aminobutyric acidergic (GABAergic) modulator phenobarbital is included for comparison. Like phenobarbital, all of the clinically approved alkyl-carbamates share an ability to enhance inhibitory neurotransmission through modulation of the GABAA receptor, although the specific mechanism of interaction differs among the different drugs discussed. In addition, several alkyl-carbamates have been shown to interact with voltage-gated ion channels. Flupirtine and retigabine share an ability to activate K+ currents mediated by KCNQ (Kv7) K+ channels, and felbamate, carisbamate, and cenobamate have been shown to block Na+ channels. In contrast to other alkyl-carbamates, cenobamate seems to be unique in its ability to preferentially attenuate the persistent rather than transient Na+ current. Results from recent randomized controlled clinical trials with cenobamate suggest that this newest antiseizure alkyl-carbamate possesses a degree of efficacy not witnessed since felbamate was approved in 1993. Given that ceno-bamate's mechanistic profile is unique among the alkyl-carbamates, it is not clear whether this impressive efficacy reflects an as yet undescribed mechanism of action or whether it possesses a unique synergy between its actions at the GABAA receptor and on persistent Na+ currents. The high efficacy of cenobamate is, however, tempered by the risk of serious rash and low tolerability at higher doses, meaning that further safety studies and clinical experience are needed to determine the true clinical value of cenobamate.