Evolution of voltage-gated ion channels at the emergence of Metazoa

J Exp Biol. 2015 Feb 15;218(Pt 4):515-25. doi: 10.1242/jeb.110270.


Voltage-gated ion channels are large transmembrane proteins that enable the passage of ions through their pore across the cell membrane. These channels belong to one superfamily and carry pivotal roles such as the propagation of neuronal and muscular action potentials and the promotion of neurotransmitter secretion in synapses. In this review, we describe in detail the current state of knowledge regarding the evolution of these channels with a special emphasis on the metazoan lineage. We highlight the contribution of the genomic revolution to the understanding of ion channel evolution and for revealing that these channels appeared long before the appearance of the first animal. We also explain how the elucidation of channel selectivity properties and function in non-bilaterian animals such as cnidarians (sea anemones, corals, jellyfish and hydroids) can contribute to the study of channel evolution. Finally, we point to open questions and future directions in this field of research.

Keywords: Animal evolution; Ion selectivity; Voltage-gated ion channels.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Biological Transport
  • Cell Membrane
  • Ion Channel Gating
  • Ion Channels / physiology*
  • Synaptic Transmission


  • Ion Channels