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Brain Res. 2000 Nov 24;884(1--2):1-12.

Localization of beta and gamma subunits of ENaC in sensory nerve endings in the rat foot pad.

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Howard Hughes Medical Institute, University of Iowa College of Medicine, 500 EMRB, Iowa City, IA 52242, USA.


The molecular mechanisms underlying mechanoelectrical transduction and the receptors that detect light touch remain uncertain. Studies in Caenorhabditis elegans suggest that members of the DEG/ENaC cation channel family may be mechanoreceptors. Therefore, we tested the hypothesis that subunits of the mammalian epithelial Na(+) channel (ENaC) family are expressed in touch receptors in rat hairless skin. We detected betaENaC and gammaENaC, but not alphaENaC transcripts in cervical and lumbar dorsal root ganglia (DRG). Using immunofluorescence, we found betaENaC and gammaENaC expressed in medium to large lumbar DRG neurons. Moreover, we detected these two subunits in Merkel cell-neurite complexes, Meissner-like corpuscles, and small lamellated corpuscles, specialized mechanosensory structures of the skin. Within these structures, betaENaC and gammaENaC were localized in the nerve fibers believed to contain the sensors responsive to mechanical stress. Thus beta and gammaENaC subunits are good candidates as components of the molecular sensor that detects touch.

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