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Bioessays. 1999 Jul;21(7):568-78.

DEG/ENaC channels: a touchy superfamily that watches its salt.

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Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, Rutgers, State University of New Jersey, Piscataway 08854, USA.


To the surprise of many, studies of molecular mechanisms of touch transduction and analyses of epithelial Na+ transport have converged to define a new class of ion channel subunits. Based on the names of the first two identified subfamilies, the Caenorhabditis elegans degenerins and the vertebrate epithelial amiloride-sensitive Na+ channel, this ion channel class is called the DEG/ENaC superfamily. Members of the DEG/ENaC superfamily have been found in nematodes, flies, snails, and vertebrates. Family members share common topology, such that they span the membrane twice and have intracellular N- and C-termini; a large extracellular loop includes a conserved cysteine-rich region. DEG/ENaC channels have been implicated a broad spectrum of cellular functions, including mechanosensation, proprioception, pain sensation, gametogenesis, and epithelial Na+ transport. These channels exhibit diverse gating properties, ranging from near constitutive opening to rapid inactivation. We discuss working understanding of DEG/ENaC functions, channel properties, structure/activity correlations and possible evolutionary relationship to other channel classes.

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