It has been 60 years since scientists discovered that sodium channels create the electrical impulses crucial to the function of nerve, brain, and heart cells — all of which are termed “excitable.” Now researchers at Yale and elsewhere are discovering that sodium channels also play key roles in so-called non-excitable cells.
In the Oct. 16 issue of the journal Neuron, Yale neuroscientists Stephen Waxman and Joel Black review nearly a quarter-century of research that shows sodium channels in cells that do not transmit electrical impulses may nonetheless play a role in immune system function, migration of cells, neurodegenerative disease, and cancer.
“This insight has opened up new avenues of research in a variety of pathologies,” Waxman said.
For instance, Waxman’s lab has begun to study the functional role of voltage-gated sodium channels in non-excitable glial cells within the spinal cord and brain. They are currently investigating whether sodium channels in these non-excitable cells may participate in the formation of glial scars, thereby inhibiting regeneration of nerve cells after traumatic injury to the spinal cord or brain.