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Neuron. 2010 Nov 4;68(3):488-99. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2010.09.014.

Extracellular calcium controls background current and neuronal excitability via an UNC79-UNC80-NALCN cation channel complex.

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Department of Biology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.


In contrast to its extensively studied intracellular roles, the molecular mechanisms by which extracellular Ca(2+) regulates the basal excitability of neurons are unclear. One mechanism is believed to be through Ca(2+)'s interaction with the negative charges on the cell membrane (the charge screening effect). Here we show that, in cultured hippocampal neurons, lowering [Ca(2+)](e) activates a NALCN channel-dependent Na(+)-leak current (I(L-Na)). The coupling between [Ca(2+)](e) and NALCN requires a Ca(2+)-sensing G protein-coupled receptor, an activation of G-proteins, an UNC80 protein that bridges NALCN to a large novel protein UNC79 in the same complex, and the last amino acid of NALCN's intracellular tail. In neurons from nalcn and unc79 knockout mice, I(L-Na) is insensitive to changes in [Ca(2+)](e), and reducing [Ca(2+)](e) fails to elicit the excitatory effects seen in the wild-type. Therefore, extracellular Ca(2+) influences neuronal excitability through the UNC79-UNC80-NALCN complex in a G protein-dependent fashion.

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