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1.  Differential Axonal Conduction Patterns of Mechano-Sensitive and Mechano-Insensitive Nociceptors – A Combined Experimental and Modelling Study 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(8):e103556.
Cutaneous pain sensations are mediated largely by C-nociceptors consisting of both mechano-sensitive (CM) and mechano-insensitive (CMi) fibres that can be distinguished from one another according to their characteristic axonal properties. In healthy skin and relative to CMi fibres, CM fibres show a higher initial conduction velocity, less activity-dependent conduction velocity slowing, and less prominent post-spike supernormality. However, after sensitization with nerve growth factor, the electrical signature of CMi fibres changes towards a profile similar to that of CM fibres. Here we take a combined experimental and modelling approach to examine the molecular basis of such alterations to the excitation thresholds. Changes in electrical activation thresholds and activity-dependent slowing were examined in vivo using single-fibre recordings of CM and CMi fibres in domestic pigs following NGF application. Using computational modelling, we investigated which axonal mechanisms contribute most to the electrophysiological differences between the fibre classes. Simulations of axonal conduction suggest that the differences between CMi and CM fibres are strongly influenced by the densities of the delayed rectifier potassium channel (Kdr), the voltage-gated sodium channels NaV1.7 and NaV1.8, and the Na+/K+-ATPase. Specifically, the CM fibre profile required less Kdr and NaV1.8 in combination with more NaV1.7 and Na+/K+-ATPase. The difference between CM and CMi fibres is thus likely to reflect a relative rather than an absolute difference in protein expression. In support of this, it was possible to replicate the experimental reduction of the ADS pattern of CMi nociceptors towards a CM-like pattern following intradermal injection of nerve growth factor by decreasing the contribution of Kdr (by 50%), increasing the Na+/K+-ATPase (by 10%), and reducing the branch length from 2 cm to 1 cm. The findings highlight key molecules that potentially contribute to the NGF-induced switch in nociceptors phenotype, in particular NaV1.7 which has already been identified clinically as a principal contributor to chronic pain states such as inherited erythromelalgia.
PMCID: PMC4138079  PMID: 25136824
2.  Gene dosage-dependent rescue of HSP neurite defects in SPG4 patients’ neurons 
Human Molecular Genetics  2013;23(10):2527-2541.
The hereditary spastic paraplegias (HSPs) are a heterogeneous group of motorneuron diseases characterized by progressive spasticity and paresis of the lower limbs. Mutations in Spastic Gait 4 (SPG4), encoding spastin, are the most frequent cause of HSP. To understand how mutations in SPG4 affect human neurons, we generated human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) from fibroblasts of two patients carrying a c.1684C>T nonsense mutation and from two controls. These SPG4 and control hiPSCs were able to differentiate into neurons and glia at comparable efficiency. All known spastin isoforms were reduced in SPG4 neuronal cells. The complexity of SPG4 neurites was decreased, which was paralleled by an imbalance of axonal transport with less retrograde movement. Prominent neurite swellings with disrupted microtubules were present in SPG4 neurons at an ultrastructural level. While some of these swellings contain acetylated and detyrosinated tubulin, these tubulin modifications were unchanged in total cell lysates of SPG4 neurons. Upregulation of another microtubule-severing protein, p60 katanin, may partially compensate for microtubuli dynamics in SPG4 neurons. Overexpression of the M1 or M87 spastin isoforms restored neurite length, branching, numbers of primary neurites and reduced swellings in SPG4 neuronal cells. We conclude that neurite complexity and maintenance in HSP patient-derived neurons are critically sensitive to spastin gene dosage. Our data show that elevation of single spastin isoform levels is sufficient to restore neurite complexity and reduce neurite swellings in patient cells. Furthermore, our human model offers an ideal platform for pharmacological screenings with the goal to restore physiological spastin levels in SPG4 patients.
PMCID: PMC3990156  PMID: 24381312
3.  Role of hippocampal sodium channel Nav1.6 in kindling epileptogenesis 
Epilepsia  2008;50(1):44-55.
Central nervous system plasticity is essential for normal function, but can also reinforce abnormal network behavior, leading to epilepsy and other disorders. The role of altered ion channel expression in abnormal plasticity has not been thoroughly investigated. Nav1.6 is the most abundantly expressed sodium channel in the nervous system. Because of its distribution in the cell body and axon initial segment, Nav1.6 is crucial for action potential generation. The goal of the present study was to investigate the possible role of changes in Nav1.6 expression in abnormal, activity-dependent plasticity of hippocampal circuits.
We studied kindling, a form of abnormal activity-dependent facilitation. We investigated: 1. sodium channel protein expression by immunocytochemistry and sodium channel mRNA by in situ hybridization, 2. sodium current by patch clamp recordings, and 3. rate of kindling by analysis of seizure behavior. The initiation, development, and expression of kindling in wild type mice were compared to Nav1.6 +/− medtg mice, which have reduced expression of Nav1.6.
We found that kindling was associated with increased expression of Nav1.6 protein and mRNA, which occurred selectively in hippocampal CA3 neurons. Hippocampal CA3 neurons also showed increased persistent sodium current in kindled animals compared to sham-kindled controls. Conversely, Nav1.6 +/− medtg mice resisted the initiation and development of kindling.
These findings suggest an important mechanism for enhanced excitability, in which Nav1.6 may participate in a self-reinforcing cycle of activity-dependent facilitation in the hippocampus. This mechanism could contribute to both normal hippocampal function, and to epilepsy and other common nervous system disorders.
PMCID: PMC3741044  PMID: 18637833
epilepsy; kindling; hippocampus; persistent sodium current; LTP
4.  Sea-anemone toxin ATX-II elicits A-fiber-dependent pain and enhances resurgent and persistent sodium currents in large sensory neurons 
Molecular Pain  2012;8:69.
Gain-of-function mutations of the nociceptive voltage-gated sodium channel Nav1.7 lead to inherited pain syndromes, such as paroxysmal extreme pain disorder (PEPD). One characteristic of these mutations is slowed fast-inactivation kinetics, which may give rise to resurgent sodium currents. It is long known that toxins from Anemonia sulcata, such as ATX-II, slow fast inactivation and skin contact for example during diving leads to various symptoms such as pain and itch. Here, we investigated if ATX-II induces resurgent currents in sensory neurons of the dorsal root ganglion (DRGs) and how this may translate into human sensations.
In large A-fiber related DRGs ATX-II (5 nM) enhances persistent and resurgent sodium currents, but failed to do so in small C-fiber linked DRGs when investigated using the whole-cell patch-clamp technique. Resurgent currents are thought to depend on the presence of the sodium channel β4-subunit. Using RT-qPCR experiments, we show that small DRGs express significantly less β4 mRNA than large sensory neurons. With the β4-C-terminus peptide in the pipette solution, it was possible to evoke resurgent currents in small DRGs and in Nav1.7 or Nav1.6 expressing HEK293/N1E115 cells, which were enhanced by the presence of extracellular ATX-II. When injected into the skin of healthy volunteers, ATX-II induces painful and itch-like sensations which were abolished by mechanical nerve block. Increase in superficial blood flow of the skin, measured by Laser doppler imaging is limited to the injection site, so no axon reflex erythema as a correlate for C-fiber activation was detected.
ATX-II enhances persistent and resurgent sodium currents in large diameter DRGs, whereas small DRGs depend on the addition of β4-peptide to the pipette recording solution for ATX-II to affect resurgent currents. Mechanical A-fiber blockade abolishes all ATX-II effects in human skin (e.g. painful and itch-like paraesthesias), suggesting that it mediates its effects mainly via activation of A-fibers.
PMCID: PMC3495684  PMID: 22978421
Patch-clamp; Psychophysics; Differential nerve block; Sensory neurons; Itch; Sodium channels; RT-qPCR; SCN4b
5.  Bisphenol A Binds to the Local Anesthetic Receptor Site to Block the Human Cardiac Sodium Channel 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(7):e41667.
Bisphenol A (BPA) has attracted considerable public attention as it leaches from plastic used in food containers, is detectable in human fluids and recent epidemiologic studies link BPA exposure with diseases including cardiovascular disorders. As heart-toxicity may derive from modified cardiac electrophysiology, we investigated the interaction between BPA and hNav1.5, the predominant voltage-gated sodium channel subtype expressed in the human heart. Electrophysiology studies of heterologously-expressed hNav1.5 determined that BPA blocks the channel with a Kd of 25.4±1.3 µM. By comparing the effects of BPA and the local anesthetic mexiletine on wild type hNav1.5 and the F1760A mutant, we demonstrate that both compounds share an overlapping binding site. With a key binding determinant thus identified, an homology model of hNav1.5 was generated based on the recently-reported crystal structure of the bacterial voltage-gated sodium channel NavAb. Docking predictions position both ligands in a cavity delimited by F1760 and contiguous with the DIII–IV pore fenestration. Steered molecular dynamics simulations used to assess routes of ligand ingress indicate that the DIII–IV pore fenestration is a viable access pathway. Therefore BPA block of the human heart sodium channel involves the local anesthetic receptor and both BPA and mexiletine may enter the closed-state pore via membrane-located side fenestrations.
PMCID: PMC3407203  PMID: 22848561
6.  FGF14 N-Terminal Splice Variants Differentially Modulate Nav1.2 and Nav1.6-Encoded Sodium Channels 
The Intracellular Fibroblast Growth Factor (iFGF) subfamily includes four members (FGFs 11–14) of the structurally related FGF superfamily. Previous studies showed that the iFGFs interact directly with the pore-forming (α) subunits of voltage-gated sodium (Nav) channels and regulate the functional properties of sodium channel currents. Sequence heterogeneity among the iFGFs is thought to confer specificity to this regulation. Here, we demonstrate that the two N-terminal alternatively spliced FGF14 variants, FGF14-1a and FGF14-1b, differentially regulate currents produced by Nav1.2-and Nav1.6 channels. FGF14-1b, but not FGF14-1a, attenuates both Nav1.2 and Nav1.6 current densities. In contrast, co-expression of an FGF14 mutant, lacking the N-terminus, increased Nav1.6 current densities. In neurons, both FGF14-1a and FGF14-1b localized at the axonal initial segment, and deletion of the N-terminus abolished this localization. Thus, the FGF14 N-terminus is required for targeting and functional regulation of Nav channels, suggesting an important function for FGF14 alternative splicing in regulating neuronal excitability.
PMCID: PMC2832592  PMID: 19465131
7.  Temperature dependence of erythromelalgia mutation L858F in sodium channel Nav1.7 
Molecular Pain  2007;3:3.
The disabling chronic pain syndrome erythromelalgia (also termed erythermalgia) is characterized by attacks of burning pain in the extremities induced by warmth. Pharmacological treatment is often ineffective, but the pain can be alleviated by cooling of the limbs. Inherited erythromelalgia has recently been linked to mutations in the gene SCN9A, which encodes the voltage-gated sodium channel Nav1.7. Nav1.7 is preferentially expressed in most nociceptive DRG neurons and in sympathetic ganglion neurons. It has recently been shown that several disease-causing erythromelalgia mutations alter channel-gating behavior in a manner that increases DRG neuron excitability.
Here we tested the effects of temperature on gating properties of wild type Nav1.7 and mutant L858F channels. Whole-cell voltage-clamp measurements on wild type or L858F channels expressed in HEK293 cells revealed that cooling decreases current density, slows deactivation and increases ramp currents for both mutant and wild type channels. However, cooling differentially shifts the midpoint of steady-state activation in a depolarizing direction for L858F but not for wild type channels.
The cooling-dependent shift of the activation midpoint of L858F to more positive potentials brings the threshold of activation of the mutant channels closer to that of wild type Nav1.7 at lower temperatures, and is likely to contribute to the alleviation of painful symptoms upon cooling in affected limbs in patients with this erythromelalgia mutation.
PMCID: PMC1781932  PMID: 17239250
8.  H2S and NO cooperatively regulate vascular tone by activating a neuroendocrine HNO–TRPA1–CGRP signalling pathway 
Nature Communications  2014;5:4381.
Nitroxyl (HNO) is a redox sibling of nitric oxide (NO) that targets distinct signalling pathways with pharmacological endpoints of high significance in the treatment of heart failure. Beneficial HNO effects depend, in part, on its ability to release calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) through an unidentified mechanism. Here we propose that HNO is generated as a result of the reaction of the two gasotransmitters NO and H2S. We show that H2S and NO production colocalizes with transient receptor potential channel A1 (TRPA1), and that HNO activates the sensory chemoreceptor channel TRPA1 via formation of amino-terminal disulphide bonds, which results in sustained calcium influx. As a consequence, CGRP is released, which induces local and systemic vasodilation. H2S-evoked vasodilatatory effects largely depend on NO production and activation of HNO–TRPA1–CGRP pathway. We propose that this neuroendocrine HNO–TRPA1–CGRP signalling pathway constitutes an essential element for the control of vascular tone throughout the cardiovascular system.
Nitric oxide (NO) and hydrogen sulphide (H2S) are two gaseous signalling molecules produced in tissues. Here the authors propose that NO and H2S react with each other to form nitroxyl (HNO), which activates the TRPA1 channel in nerve cells and triggers the release of the vasoactive peptide CGRP.
PMCID: PMC4104458  PMID: 25023795

Results 1-8 (8)