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Front Pharmacol. 2015 Jul 29;6:152. doi: 10.3389/fphar.2015.00152. eCollection 2015.

Voltage-gated sodium channels and cancer: is excitability their primary role?

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Inserm UMR1069, Nutrition, Croissance et Cancer, Université François-Rabelais de Tours Tours, France ; Département de Physiologie Animale, UFR Sciences and Techniques, Université François-Rabelais de Tours Tours, France.
Department of Clinical Research, University of Bern Bern, Switzerland.
Inserm U1046, Université de Montpellier Montpellier, France.
Inserm UMR1069, Nutrition, Croissance et Cancer, Université François-Rabelais de Tours Tours, France.


Voltage-gated sodium channels (NaV) are molecular characteristics of excitable cells. Their activation, triggered by membrane depolarization, generates transient sodium currents that initiate action potentials in neurons and muscle cells. Sodium currents were discovered by Hodgkin and Huxley using the voltage clamp technique and reported in their landmark series of papers in 1952. It was only in the 1980's that sodium channel proteins from excitable membranes were molecularly characterized by Catterall and his collaborators. Non-excitable cells can also express NaV channels in physiological conditions as well as in pathological conditions. These NaV channels can sustain biological roles that are not related to the generation of action potentials. Interestingly, it is likely that the abnormal expression of NaV in pathological tissues can reflect the re-expression of a fetal phenotype. This is especially true in epithelial cancer cells for which these channels have been identified and sodium currents recorded, while it was not the case for cells from the cognate normal tissues. In cancers, the functional activity of NaV appeared to be involved in regulating the proliferative, migrative, and invasive properties of cells. This review is aimed at addressing the non-excitable roles of NaV channels with a specific emphasis in the regulation of cancer cell biology.


cancer; cell excitability; invasion; sodium; voltage-gated sodium channel

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