Oxcarbazepine, topiramate, zonisamide, and levetiracetam: potential use in neuropathic pain

David R P Guay
American Journal of Geriatric Pharmacotherapy 2003, 1 (1): 18-37

BACKGROUND: Oxcarbazepine, topiramate, zonisamide, and levetiracetam are the antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) most recently approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. Based on the experience with carbamazepine, gabapentin, and lamotrigine, these newer AEDs are being investigated for the management of neuropathic pain.

OBJECTIVE: This article reviews preclinical and clinical data on the efficacy and tolerability of these 4 AEDs in the management of neuropathic pain, as well as the pharmacokinetics, drug-interaction potential, adverse effects, and dosing of these agents, with an emphasis on their use in older individuals.

METHODS: Relevant studies were identified through a MEDLINE search of the Englidh-language literature published between 1986 and May 2003, a review of the reference lists of identified articles, and abstracts from the annual meetings of the American Academy of Neurology (1986-2002) and the 2003 Annual Meeting of the American Pain Society. Search terms were oxcarbazepine, topiramate, zonisamide, and levetiracetam.

RESULTS: Oxcarbazepine and topiramate have been effective in animal models of neuropathic pain. Thirty-four publications on the efficacy and tolerability of the 4 agents were identified (25 case reports/case series, 6 randomized parallel-group studies, and 3 randomized crossover studies). The 9 randomized studies were restricted to oxcarbazepine and topiramate, and 23 (68%) publications were available in abstract form only. These preliminary data suggest that the 4 newer AEDs may be useful in a wide variety of neuropathic pain syndromes; however, additional data, including full-length peer-reviewed reports, are necessary before their true analgesic potential in neuropathic pain can be determined. All 4 agents have pharmacodynamic interactions with other psychotherapeutic drugs, potentiating adverse central nervous system events such as sedation. With the exception of levetiracetam, these drugs also have pharmacokinetic interactions with other drugs, although to a somewhat lesser extent than carbamazepine. These agents have some unique adverse effects not frequently monitored by clinicians, such as hyponatremia, nephrolithiasis, acute myopia with secondary angle-closure glaucoma, and weight loss.

CONCLUSIONS: Based on preliminary data, oxcarbazepine, topiramate, zonisamide, and levetiracetam may be useful in the treatment of a wide variety of neuropathic pain syndromes, although full publication of the results of controlled trials is awaited. These agents are associated with specific adverse effects not commonly monitored by clinicians. Of the 4, levetiracetam appears to be easiest to use (ie, no need for dose adjustment in organ dysfunction, no need for laboratory monitoring) and best tolerated, and has not been associated with the unique toxicities seen with oxcarbazepine, topiramate, and zonisamide. The ultimate role of these agents in the therapeutic armamentarium against pain requires further research and experience. In the interim, these 4 agents should be used to treat neuropathic pain in the elderly only when carbamazepine, gabapentin, or lamotrigine cannot be used or when the response to the aforementioned agents is suboptimal.

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