Small-fiber neuropathy (SFN) is characterized by injury to small-diameter peripheral nerve axons and intraepidermal nerve fibers (IENF). Although mechanisms underlying loss of IENF in SFN are poorly understood, available data suggest that it results from axonal degeneration and reduced regenerative capacity. Gain-of-function variants in sodium channel Na(V)1.7 that increase firing frequency and spontaneous firing of dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons have recently been identified in ∼30% of patients with idiopathic SFN. In the present study, to determine whether these channel variants can impair axonal integrity, we developed an in vitro assay of DRG neurite length, and examined the effect of 3 SFN-associated variant Na(V)1.7 channels, I228M, M932L/V991L (ML/VL), and I720K, on DRG neurites in vitro. At 3 days after culturing, DRG neurons transfected with I228M channels exhibited ∼20% reduced neurite length compared to wild-type channels; DRG neurons transfected with ML/VL and I720K variants displayed a trend toward reduced neurite length. I228M-induced reduction in neurite length was ameliorated by the use-dependent sodium channel blocker carbamazepine and by a blocker of reverse Na-Ca exchange. These in vitro observations provide evidence supporting a contribution of the I228M variant Na(V)1.7 channel to impaired regeneration and/or degeneration of sensory axons in idiopathic SFN, and suggest that enhanced sodium channel activity and reverse Na-Ca exchange can contribute to a decrease in length of peripheral sensory axons.
Copyright © 2012 American Neurological Association.