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Physiol Rev. 2002 Jul;82(3):735-67.

Epithelial sodium channel/degenerin family of ion channels: a variety of functions for a shared structure.

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Institut de Pharmacologie et de Toxicologie, Université de Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland.


The recently discovered epithelial sodium channel (ENaC)/degenerin (DEG) gene family encodes sodium channels involved in various cell functions in metazoans. Subfamilies found in invertebrates or mammals are functionally distinct. The degenerins in Caenorhabditis elegans participate in mechanotransduction in neuronal cells, FaNaC in snails is a ligand-gated channel activated by neuropeptides, and the Drosophila subfamily is expressed in gonads and neurons. In mammals, ENaC mediates Na+ transport in epithelia and is essential for sodium homeostasis. The ASIC genes encode proton-gated cation channels in both the central and peripheral nervous system that could be involved in pain transduction. This review summarizes the physiological roles of the different channels belonging to this family, their biophysical and pharmacological characteristics, and the emerging knowledge of their molecular structure. Although functionally different, the ENaC/DEG family members share functional domains that are involved in the control of channel activity and in the formation of the pore. The functional heterogeneity among the members of the ENaC/DEG channel family provides a unique opportunity to address the molecular basis of basic channel functions such as activation by ligands, mechanotransduction, ionic selectivity, or block by pharmacological ligands.

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