New Drug to Quiet Brain, Relieving Epilepsy and Tinnitus

New Drug to Quiet Brain, Relieve Epilepsy and Tinnitus

A new drug may treat epilepsy and prevent tinnitus by selectively affecting potassium channels in the brain

Overly excited nerve cells cause problems like epilepsy and tinnitus. A new drug that selectively affects potassium channels promises relief with fewer side effects.

A new drug may treat epilepsy and prevent tinnitus by selectively affecting potassium channels in the brain, UConn neurophysiologist Anastasios Tzingounis and colleagues report in the June 10 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

Epilepsy and tinnitus are both caused by overly excitable nerve cells. Healthy nerves have a built-in system that slams on the brakes when they get too excited. But in some people this braking system doesn’t work, and the nerves run amok, signaling so much that the brain gets overloaded and has a seizure (epilepsy) or hears phantom ringing (tinnitus). About 65 million people worldwide are affected by epilepsy. The numbers on tinnitus are not as clear-cut, but the American Tinnitus Association estimates 2 million people have tinnitus so disabling they have troubling functioning in daily life.

The existing drugs to treat epilepsy don’t always work and can have serious side effects. One of the more effective, called retigabine, helps open KCNQ potassium channels, the “brakes” that shut down the signaling of overly excited nerves. Unfortunately, retigabine has awful side effects. Because of this, it’s usually only given to adults who don’t get relief from other epilepsy drugs.

Several years ago, doctors around the world began reporting infants with severe, brain-damaging seizures. Genetic testing showed that the children with this problem had genetic differences in their KCNQ potassium channels. Most existing anti-seizure drugs don’t work for these children, and few want to give babies retigabine because of its side effects, which include sleepiness, dizziness, problems with urination and hearing, and an unnerving tendency to turn people’s skin and eyes blue.

Tzingounis began working in 2013 with Thanos Tzounopoulos, a tinnitus expert at the University of Pittsburgh, on a new drug candidate. The drug, SF0034, was chemically identical to retigabine, except that it had an extra fluorine atom. A company called SciFluor had developed SF0034, and wanted to know whether the compound had promise against epilepsy and tinnitus. The two researchers thought the drug had the potential to be much better than retigabine.

The most important question to answer was whether SF0034 works on KCNQ potassium channels the same way retigabine does, and if so, was it better or worse than its parent compound? KCNQ potassium channels are found in the initial segment of axons, long nerve fibers that reach out and almost, but don’t quite, touch other cells. The gap between the axon and the other cell is called a synapse. When the cell wants to signal to the axon, it floods the synapse with sodium ions to create an electrical potential. When that electrical potential goes on too long, or gets out of hand, the KCNQ potassium channel kicks in. It opens, potassium ions flood out, and the sodium-induced electrical potential shuts down. In some types of epilepsy, the KCNQ potassium channels have trouble opening and shutting down runaway electrical potentials in the nerve synapse. Retigabine helps them open.

There are five different kinds of KCNQ potassium channels in the body, but only two are important in epilepsy and tinnitus: KCNQ2 and KCNQ3. The problem with retigabine is that it acts on other KCNQ potassium channels as well. That’s why it has so many unwanted side effects.

Tzingounis and Tzounopoulos first tested SF0034 in neurons, and found that it was more selective than retigabine. It seemed to open only KCNQ2 and KCNQ3 potassium channels, not affecting KCNQ 4 or 5. It was more effective than retigabine at preventing seizures in animals, and it was also less toxic. The results are promising, both for research and medicine. SciFluor now plans to start FDA trials with SF0034 and see if it is safe and effective in people. Treating epilepsy is the primary goal, but tinnitus can be similarly debilitating, and sufferers would be thrilled to have a decent treatment.

Tzingounis is pleased as well. “This [SF0034] gives me another tool, and a better tool, to dissect the function of these channels,” Tzingounis says. “And we need to find solutions for kids—and adults—with this problem,” he says.

19 Comments on "New Drug to Quiet Brain, Relieving Epilepsy and Tinnitus"

  1. Good studies. I believe a lot of people would benefit from this.

  2. Carole Fredrickson | October 25, 2016 at 5:55 pm | Reply

    This is wonderful news,maybe some relief will come to people suffering from epilepsy and tinnitus. Tinnitus has tormented me this past year and has caused pain for me and my family.

  3. randall lee spayd | January 6, 2017 at 3:02 pm | Reply

    if the politicians in the u. s. suffered the nightmare of tinnitus there would be millions of dollars available for research approved in record time .

  4. Deborah Wegmann | February 22, 2017 at 3:44 pm | Reply

    I’ve had tinitus now for 2and half yrs, both ears . Never goes away I feel like I’m going insane I can’t stand it anymore I have severe migraines and cluster headaches also, and I’m on Topamax now I find out that topamax can cause tinitus I’m sick of all these Dr’s they don’t care and they never have answers, I really hope they find something that gets rid of this tinitus bc I don’t know how much more I can stand.

  5. I’ve had tinnitus since I was 18, I’m 54 now. It has progressively gotten worse. You just can’t explain it to people who don’t have it. It is TORTURE. 24/7! I have hearing loss from it, but worse it makes me want to die. I pray someone finds a cure ASAP!

  6. RICHARD CREAWFORD | September 26, 2018 at 2:10 pm | Reply


  7. I have had ringing for so long it has taken 20 percent of my hearing away. I hope this is the help that so many of us need.

  8. richard crawford | November 8, 2018 at 1:58 pm | Reply

    were do i get the medication for tinnitus

  9. I have used Pristiq for the past 2 years and it has muffled what we’re suicidal levels of tinnitus. The tinnitus is still bad, but not as piercing. Seroquel can also be very helpful. These are all dependent on the person, but I would suggest worth a try.

  10. RICHAR CRAWFOD | August 22, 2019 at 2:43 pm | Reply


  11. I have Tinnitus in the last year and I don’t like the ringing in the ears. I am taking dilantin for 45 years. Now I see there is a connection between the Tinnitus and Epilepsy. I hear there is no cure for the ringing from my ear doctor. What is this new medication.

  12. KATINA WALDORF | June 1, 2020 at 6:14 pm | Reply


  13. I have suffered with tinnitus for over 15 years, a roar and high whine,affecting how i hear people talking to me, lately I hear mumbling voices or music, as you would hear it through a wall from a neighbor, but my wife hears nothing and there are no neighbors, it is driving me crazy, but the doctors just shrug it of as being untreatable, do I have to admit to being suicidal before they decide to help, will this treatment ever be available in the UK.

    • Ever since I got a mild case of Covid in March 2022 I too hear music nearly every day. My wife doesn’t hear it at all.
      Maybe it is coming from the wiring in our house??

  14. I am 73 years old and have had tinnitus since I was 13 years old . Mine was caused by my throwing a firecracker that had a short fuse and went off just inches from my right ear. My right ear has ringing ever since and my left has it too, just not quite as loud. I don’t understand how it is caused by something in the brain??

  15. I am 69 and just started having seizures with tinnitus after taking the 3 Covid vaccines. It’s destroyed my life. So many meds , nothing helps. When the ringing gets so loud I can’t stand it , I know a seizure is about to begin. There has to be a correlation. People need this medication. So many are ending their lives because it’s unbearable. I’m tired of doctors saying they’re worried about me. Well I’m worried about me too ! Medications don’t work for me! I can’t even pronounce most of them. I’ve had 17 eeg’s, and have they’ve pulled so much hair out ! I’m disgusted and need help !
    My email is [email protected]

  16. Sorry to post twice but ppl are desperate for this medication. So many want their lives back. But are neurological physicians blocking it because it would end their practice ? We need answers. Ppl do not understand how deadly seizures and related tinnitus are !!!!!!!!!! Ppl are screaming for help ! What the hell are all these meds doctors giving to us doing to us ? What are the side effects? Can’t even pronounce most of them ! And doctors just throw scripts at us !!!! Ppl think we are making this up !!!! I’ve fallen so many times. My legs go numb. I fall. They tell me I have left lobe with de Javu whatever that means 😡. This all happened after the Covid vaccinations. Any correlation? Seems too obvious.
    But that would never be reported. As I sit here my ears will not stop the incredible loud ringing. It’s going to be an all day of ringing and seizures. So another day on the couch living in fear of when I’m going to have the next episode. Do seizures injure the brain ? I get no answers other than he’s worried about me 😡. I could care less if he’s worried , I want this to stop. I’m sick of all these horrible medications

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