Inhibition of sodium-potassium-ATPase: a potentially ubiquitous mechanism contributing to central nervous system neuropathology

Brain Res Brain Res Rev. Sep-Dec 1991;16(3):283-300. doi: 10.1016/0165-0173(91)90011-v.


Direct and indirect evidence suggests that Na+/K(+)-ATPase activity is reduced or insufficient to maintain ionic balances during and immediately after episodes of ischemia, hypoglycemia, epilepsy, and after administration of excitotoxins (glutamate agonists). Recent results show that inhibition of this enzyme results in neuronal death, and thus a hypothesis is proposed that a reduction and/or inhibition of this enzyme contributes to producing the central neuropathy found in the above disorders, and identifies potential mechanisms involved. While the extent of inhibition of Na+/K(+)-ATPase during ischemia, hypoglycemia and epilepsy may be insufficient to cause neuronal death by itself, unless the inhibition is severe and prolonged, there are a number of interactions which can lead to a potentiation of the neurotoxic actions of glutamate, a prime candidate for causing part of the damage following trauma. Presynaptically, inhibition of the Na+/K(+)-ATPase destroys the sodium gradient which drives the uptake of acidic amino acids and a number of other neurotransmitters. This results in both a block of reuptake and a stimulation of the release not only of glutamate but also of other neurotransmitters which modulate the neurotoxicity of glutamate. An exocytotic release of glutamate can also occur as inhibition of the enzyme causes depolarization of the membrane, but exocytosis is only possible when ATP levels are sufficiently high. Postsynaptically, the depolarization could alleviate the magnesium block of NMDA receptors, a major mechanism for glutamate-induced neurotoxicity, while massive depolarization results in seizure activity. With less severe inhibition, the retention of sodium results in osmotic swelling and possible cellular lysis. A build-up of intracellular calcium also occurs via voltage-gated calcium channels following depolarization and as a consequence of a failure of the sodium-calcium exchange system, maintained by the sodium gradient.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Central Nervous System Diseases / enzymology
  • Central Nervous System Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Sodium-Potassium-Exchanging ATPase / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Sodium-Potassium-Exchanging ATPase / metabolism


  • Sodium-Potassium-Exchanging ATPase