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Electrophorus electricus as a model system for the study of membrane excitability.

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Department of Molecular and Cellular Physiology, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, OH 45267-0576, USA.


The stunning sensations produced by electric fish, particularly the electric eel, Electrophorus electricus, have fascinated scientists for centuries. Within the last 50 years, however, electric cells of Electrophorus have provided a unique model system that is both specialized and appropriate for the study of excitable cell membrane electrophysiology and biochemistry. Electric tissue generates whole animal electrical discharges by means of membrane potentials that are remarkably similar to those of mammalian neurons, myocytes and secretory cells. Electrocytes express ion channels, ATPases and signal transduction proteins common to these other excitable cells. Action potentials of electrocytes represent the specialized end function of electric tissue whereas other excitable cells use membrane potential changes to trigger sophisticated cellular processes, such as myofilament cross-bridging for contraction, or exocytosis for secretion. Because electric tissue lacks these functions and the proteins associated with them, it provides a highly specialized membrane model system. This review examines the basic mechanisms involved in the generation of the electrical discharge of the electric eel and the membrane proteins involved. The valuable contributions that electric tissue continues to make toward the understanding of excitable cell physiology and biochemistry are summarized, particularly those studies using electrocytes as a model system for the study of the regulation of membrane excitability by second messengers and signal transduction pathways.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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