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Juvenile myoclonic epilepsy

Juvenile myoclonic epilepsy

Reviewed September 2015

What is juvenile myoclonic epilepsy?

Juvenile myoclonic epilepsy is a condition characterized by recurrent seizures (epilepsy). This condition begins in childhood or adolescence, usually between ages 12 and 18, and lasts into adulthood. The most common type of seizure in people with this condition is myoclonic seizures, which cause rapid, uncontrolled muscle jerks. People with this condition may also have generalized tonic-clonic seizures (also known as grand mal seizures), which cause muscle rigidity, convulsions, and loss of consciousness. Sometimes, affected individuals have absence seizures, which cause loss of consciousness for a short period that appears as a staring spell. Typically, people with juvenile myoclonic epilepsy develop the characteristic myoclonic seizures in adolescence, then develop generalized tonic-clonic seizures a few years later. Although seizures can happen at any time, they occur most commonly in the morning, shortly after awakening. Seizures can be triggered by a lack of sleep, extreme tiredness, stress, or alcohol consumption.

How common is juvenile myoclonic epilepsy?

Juvenile myoclonic epilepsy affects an estimated 1 in 1,000 people worldwide. Approximately 5 percent of people with epilepsy have juvenile myoclonic epilepsy.

What genes are related to juvenile myoclonic epilepsy?

The genetics of juvenile myoclonic epilepsy are complex and not completely understood. Mutations in one of several genes can cause or increase susceptibility to this condition. The most studied of these genes are the GABRA1 gene and the EFHC1 gene, although mutations in at least three other genes have been identified in people with this condition. Many people with juvenile myoclonic epilepsy do not have mutations in any of these genes. Changes in other, unidentified genes are likely involved in this condition.

A mutation in the GABRA1 gene has been identified in several members of a large family with juvenile myoclonic epilepsy. The GABRA1 gene provides instructions for making one piece, the alpha-1 (α1) subunit, of the GABAA receptor protein. The GABAA receptor acts as a channel that allows negatively charged chlorine atoms (chloride ions) to cross the cell membrane. After infancy, the influx of chloride ions creates an environment in the cell that inhibits signaling between nerve cells (neurons) and prevents the brain from being overloaded with too many signals. Mutations in the GABRA1 gene lead to an altered α1 subunit and a decrease in the number of GABAA receptors available. As a result, the signaling between neurons is not controlled, which can lead to overstimulation of neurons. Researchers believe that the overstimulation of certain neurons in the brain triggers the abnormal brain activity associated with seizures.

Mutations in the EFHC1 gene have been associated with juvenile myoclonic epilepsy in a small number of people. The EFHC1 gene provides instructions for making a protein that also plays a role in neuron activity, although its function is not completely understood. The EFHC1 protein is attached to another protein that acts as a calcium channel. This protein allows positively charged calcium ions to cross the cell membrane. The movement of these ions is critical for normal signaling between neurons. The EFHC1 protein is thought to help regulate the balance of calcium ions inside the cell, although the mechanism is unclear. In addition, studies show that the EFHC1 protein may be involved in the self-destruction of cells. EFHC1 gene mutations reduce the function of the EFHC1 protein. Researchers suggest that this reduction causes an increase in the number of neurons and disrupts the calcium balance. Together, these effects may lead to overstimulation of neurons and trigger seizures.

Read more about the EFHC1 and GABRA1 genes.

See a list of genes associated with juvenile myoclonic epilepsy.

How do people inherit juvenile myoclonic epilepsy?

The inheritance pattern of juvenile myoclonic epilepsy is not completely understood. When the condition is caused by mutations in the GABRA1 gene, it is inherited in an autosomal dominant pattern, which means one copy of the altered gene in each cell is sufficient to cause the disorder. The inheritance pattern of juvenile myoclonic epilepsy caused by mutations in the EFHC1 gene is not known.

Although juvenile myoclonic epilepsy can run in families, many cases occur in people with no family history of the disorder.

Where can I find information about diagnosis or management of juvenile myoclonic epilepsy?

These resources address the diagnosis or management of juvenile myoclonic epilepsy and may include treatment providers.

You might also find information on the diagnosis or management of juvenile myoclonic epilepsy in Educational resources and Patient support.

General information about the diagnosis and management of genetic conditions is available in the Handbook. Read more about genetic testing, particularly the difference between clinical tests and research tests.

To locate a healthcare provider, see How can I find a genetics professional in my area? in the Handbook.

Where can I find additional information about juvenile myoclonic epilepsy?

You may find the following resources about juvenile myoclonic epilepsy helpful. These materials are written for the general public.

You may also be interested in these resources, which are designed for healthcare professionals and researchers.

What other names do people use for juvenile myoclonic epilepsy?

  • adolescent myoclonic epilepsy
  • Janz syndrome
  • petit mal, impulsive

For more information about naming genetic conditions, see the Genetics Home Reference Condition Naming Guidelines and How are genetic conditions and genes named? in the Handbook.

What if I still have specific questions about juvenile myoclonic epilepsy?

Where can I find general information about genetic conditions?

What glossary definitions help with understanding juvenile myoclonic epilepsy?

adolescent ; autosomal ; autosomal dominant ; calcium ; cell ; cell membrane ; channel ; chloride ; epilepsy ; family history ; GABA ; gene ; genetics ; idiopathic ; inheritance ; inheritance pattern ; inherited ; ions ; juvenile ; mutation ; neuron ; protein ; receptor ; seizure ; stress ; subunit ; susceptibility ; syndrome

You may find definitions for these and many other terms in the Genetics Home Reference Glossary.

See also Understanding Medical Terminology.

References (5 links)


The resources on this site should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. Users seeking information about a personal genetic disease, syndrome, or condition should consult with a qualified healthcare professional. See How can I find a genetics professional in my area? in the Handbook.

Reviewed: September 2015
Published: February 1, 2016