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J Neurosci. 2006 Jul 5;26(27):7172-80.

Impaired firing and cell-specific compensation in neurons lacking nav1.6 sodium channels.

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Graduate Program in Neuroscience, Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, State University of New York, Stony Brook, New York 11794-5230, USA.


The ability of neurons to fire precise patterns of action potentials is critical for encoding inputs and efficiently driving target neurons. At the axon initial segment and nodes of Ranvier, where nerve impulses are generated and propagated, a high density of Na(v)1.2 sodium channels is developmentally replaced by Na(v)1.6 channels. In retinal ganglion cells (GCs), this isoform switch coincides with the developmental transition from single spikes to repetitive firing. Also, Na(v)1.6 channels are required for repetitive spiking in cerebellar Purkinje neurons. These previous observations suggest that the developmental appearance of Na(v)1.6 underlies the transition to repetitive spiking in GCs. To test this possibility, we recorded from GCs of med (Na(v)1.6-null) and wild-type mice during postnatal development. By postnatal day 18, when the switch to Na(v)1.6 at GC initial segments is normally complete, the maximal sustained and instantaneous firing rates were lower in med than in wild-type GCs, demonstrating that Na(v)1.6 channels are necessary to attain physiologically relevant firing frequencies in GCs. However, the firing impairment was milder than that reported previously in med Purkinje neurons, which prompted us to look for differences in compensatory sodium channel expression. Both Na(v)1.2 and Na(v)1.1 channels accumulated at initial segments and nodes of med GCs, sites normally occupied by Na(v)1.6. In med Purkinje cells, only Na(v)1.1 channels were found at initial segments, whereas in other brain regions, only Na(v)1.2 was detected at med initial segments and nodes. Thus, compensatory mechanisms in channel isoform distribution are cell specific, which likely results in different firing properties.

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