It has been 60 years since scientists discovered that sodium channels create the electrical impulses crucial to the function of nerve, brain, and heart cells — all of which are termed “excitable.” Now researchers at Yale and elsewhere are discovering that sodium channels also play key roles in so-called non-excitable cells.

In the Oct. 16 issue of the journal Neuron, Yale neuroscientists Stephen Waxman and Joel Black review nearly a quarter-century of research that shows sodium channels in cells that do not transmit electrical impulses may nonetheless play a role in immune system function, migration of cells, neurodegenerative disease, and cancer.

This is an illustration of the sodium channel.

Researchers are currently investigating whether sodium channels in these non-excitable cells may participate in the formation of glial scars, thereby inhibiting regeneration of nerve cells after traumatic injury to the spinal cord or brain. This is an illustration of the sodium channel

“This insight has opened up new avenues of research in a variety of pathologies,” Waxman said.

For instance, Waxman’s lab has begun to study the functional role of voltage-gated sodium channels in non-excitable glial cells within the spinal cord and brain. They are currently investigating whether sodium channels in these non-excitable cells may participate in the formation of glial scars, thereby inhibiting regeneration of nerve cells after traumatic injury to the spinal cord or brain.

Notes about this neuroscience research

Written by Bill Hathaway
Contact: Bill Hathaway – Yale University
Source: Yale University press release
Image Source: The image is credited to Cthuljew and is licensed as Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Original Research: Abstract for “Noncanonical Roles of Voltage-Gated Sodium Channels” by Joel A. Black and Stephen G. Waxman in Neuron. Published online October 16 2013 doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2013.09.012

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