Mechanisms of sodium channel clustering and its influence on axonal impulse conduction

Cell Mol Life Sci. 2016 Feb;73(4):723-35. doi: 10.1007/s00018-015-2081-1. Epub 2015 Oct 29.


The efficient propagation of action potentials along nervous fibers is necessary for animals to interact with the environment with timeliness and precision. Myelination of axons is an essential step to ensure fast action potential propagation by saltatory conduction, a process that requires highly concentrated voltage-gated sodium channels at the nodes of Ranvier. Recent studies suggest that the clustering of sodium channels can influence axonal impulse conduction in both myelinated and unmyelinated fibers, which could have major implications in disease, particularly demyelinating pathology. This comprehensive review summarizes the mechanisms governing the clustering of sodium channels at the peripheral and central nervous system nodes and the specific roles of their clustering in influencing action potential conduction. We further highlight the classical biophysical parameters implicated in conduction timing, followed by a detailed discussion on how sodium channel clustering along unmyelinated axons can impact axonal impulse conduction in both physiological and pathological contexts.

Keywords: Action potential propagation; Axon–glial interactions; Myelin; Neurological disease; Node of ranvier; Voltage-gated sodium channel.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials*
  • Animals
  • Axons / metabolism*
  • Axons / pathology
  • Demyelinating Diseases / metabolism
  • Demyelinating Diseases / pathology
  • Humans
  • Ranvier's Nodes / metabolism*
  • Ranvier's Nodes / pathology
  • Voltage-Gated Sodium Channels / metabolism*


  • Voltage-Gated Sodium Channels