Familial disorders of skeletal muscle excitability were initially described early in the last century and are now known to be caused by mutations of voltage-gated ion channels. The clinical manifestations are often striking, with an inability to relax after voluntary contraction (myotonia) or transient attacks of severe weakness (periodic paralysis). An essential feature of these disorders is fluctuation of symptoms that are strongly impacted by environmental triggers such as exercise, temperature, or serum K(+) levels. These phenomena have intrigued physiologists for decades, and in the past 25 years the molecular lesions underlying these disorders have been identified and mechanistic studies are providing insights for therapeutic strategies of disease modification. These familial disorders of muscle fiber excitability are "channelopathies" caused by mutations of a chloride channel (ClC-1), sodium channel (NaV1.4), calcium channel (CaV1.1), and several potassium channels (Kir2.1, Kir2.6, and Kir3.4). This review provides a synthesis of the mechanistic connections between functional defects of mutant ion channels, their impact on muscle excitability, how these changes cause clinical phenotypes, and approaches toward therapeutics.
© 2015 American Physiological Society.