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Modulation of Voltage-Gated Ion Channels by Sialylation

  1. Andrew R. Ednie,
  2. Eric S. Bennett

Published Online: 1 APR 2012

DOI: 10.1002/cphy.c110044

Comprehensive Physiology

Comprehensive Physiology

How to Cite

Ednie, A. R. and Bennett, E. S. 2012. Modulation of Voltage-Gated Ion Channels by Sialylation. Comprehensive Physiology. 2:1269–1301.

Author Information

  1. Programs in Cardiovascular Research and Neuroscience, Department of Molecular Pharmacology & Physiology, College of Medicine, University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 1 APR 2012


Control and modulation of electrical signaling is vital to normal physiology, particularly in neurons, cardiac myocytes, and skeletal muscle. The orchestrated activities of variable sets of ion channels and transporters, including voltage-gated ion channels (VGICs), are responsible for initiation, conduction, and termination of the action potential (AP) in excitable cells. Slight changes in VGIC activity can lead to severe pathologies including arrhythmias, epilepsies, and paralyses, while normal excitability depends on the precise tuning of the AP waveform. VGICs are heavily posttranslationally modified, with upward of 30% of the mature channel mass consisting of N- and O-glycans. These glycans are terminated typically by negatively charged sialic acid residues that modulate voltage-dependent channel gating directly. The data indicate that sialic acids alter VGIC activity in isoform-specific manners, dependent in part, on the number/location of channel sialic acids attached to the pore-forming alpha and/or auxiliary subunits that often act through saturating electrostatic mechanisms. Additionally, cell-specific regulation of sialylation can affect VGIC gating distinctly. Thus, channel sialylation is likely regulated through two mechanisms that together contribute to a dynamic spectrum of possible gating motifs: a subunit-specific mechanism and regulated (aberrant) changes in the ability of the cell to glycosylate. Recent studies showed that neuronal and cardiac excitability is modulated through regulated changes in voltage-gated Na+ channel sialylation, suggesting that both mechanisms of differential VGIC sialylation contribute to electrical signaling in the brain and heart. Together, the data provide insight into an important and novel paradigm involved in the control and modulation of electrical signaling. © 2012 American Physiological Society. Compr Physiol 2:1269-1301, 2012.