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Br J Pharmacol. 2009 Nov;158(6):1413-25. doi: 10.1111/j.1476-5381.2009.00437.x. Epub 2009 Oct 20.

Subtype-selective targeting of voltage-gated sodium channels.

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Pfizer Global Research and Development, Sandwich Laboratories, Kent, UK.


Voltage-gated sodium channels are key to the initiation and propagation of action potentials in electrically excitable cells. Molecular characterization has shown there to be nine functional members of the family, with a high degree of sequence homology between the channels. This homology translates into similar biophysical and pharmacological properties. Confidence in some of the channels as drug targets has been boosted by the discovery of human mutations in the genes encoding a number of them, which give rise to clinical conditions commensurate with the changes predicted from the altered channel biophysics. As a result, they have received much attention for their therapeutic potential. Sodium channels represent well-precedented drug targets as antidysrhythmics, anticonvulsants and local anaesthetics provide good clinical efficacy, driven through pharmacology at these channels. However, electrophysiological characterization of clinically useful compounds in recombinant expression systems shows them to be weak, with poor selectivity between channel types. This has led to the search for subtype-selective modulators, which offer the promise of treatments with improved clinical efficacy and better toleration. Despite developments in high-throughput electrophysiology platforms, this has proven very challenging. Structural biology is beginning to offer us a greater understanding of the three-dimensional structure of voltage-gated ion channels, bringing with it the opportunity to do real structure-based drug design in the future. This discipline is still in its infancy, but developments with the expression and purification of prokaryotic sodium channels offer the promise of structure-based drug design in the not too distant future.

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