The epithelial Na(+) channel (ENaC) and the acid-sensing ion channels (ASICs) form subfamilies within the ENaC/degenerin family of Na(+) channels. ENaC mediates transepithelial Na(+) transport, thereby contributing to Na(+) homeostasis and the maintenance of blood pressure and the airway surface liquid level. ASICs are H(+)-activated channels found in central and peripheral neurons, where their activation induces neuronal depolarization. ASICs are involved in pain sensation, the expression of fear, and neurodegeneration after ischemia, making them potentially interesting drug targets. This review summarizes the biophysical properties, cellular functions, and physiologic and pathologic roles of the ASIC and ENaC subfamilies. The analysis of the homologies between ENaC and ASICs and the relation between functional and structural information shows many parallels between these channels, suggesting that some mechanisms that control channel activity are shared between ASICs and ENaC. The available crystal structures and the discovery of animal toxins acting on ASICs provide a unique opportunity to address the molecular mechanisms of ENaC and ASIC function to identify novel strategies for the modulation of these channels by pharmacologic ligands.
Copyright © 2014 by The American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics.