Insensitivity to Pain upon Adult-Onset Deletion of Nav1.7 or Its Blockade with Selective Inhibitors

J Neurosci. 2018 Nov 21;38(47):10180-10201. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1049-18.2018. Epub 2018 Oct 9.


Strong human genetic evidence points to an essential contribution of the voltage-gated sodium channel Nav1.7 to pain sensation: loss of Nav1.7 function leads to congenital insensitivity to pain, whereas gain-of-function mutations in the SCN9A gene that encodes Nav1.7 cause painful neuropathies, such as inherited erythromelalgia, a syndrome characterized by episodic spontaneous pain. Selective Nav1.7 channel blockers thus hold promise as potential painkillers with improved safety and reduced unwanted side effects compared with existing therapeutics. To determine the maximum effect of a theoretically perfectly selective Nav1.7 inhibitor, we generated a tamoxifen-inducible KO mouse model enabling genetic deletion of Nav1.7 from adult mice. Electrophysiological recordings of sensory neurons from these mice following tamoxifen injection demonstrated the loss of Nav1.7 channel current and the resulting decrease in neuronal excitability of small-diameter neurons. We found that behavioral responses to most, but surprisingly not all, modalities of noxious stimulus are abolished following adult deletion of Nav1.7, pointing toward indications where Nav1.7 blockade should be efficacious. Furthermore, we demonstrate that isoform-selective acylsulfonamide Nav1.7 inhibitors show robust analgesic and antinociceptive activity acutely after a single dose in mouse pain models shown to be Nav1.7-dependent. All experiments were done with both male and female mice. Collectively, these data expand the depth of knowledge surrounding Nav1.7 biology as it relates to pain, and provide preclinical proof of efficacy that lays a clear path toward translation for the therapeutic use of Nav1.7-selective inhibitors in humans.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Loss-of-function mutations in the sodium channel Nav1.7 cause congenital insensitivity to pain in humans, making Nav1.7 a top target for novel pain drugs. Targeting Nav1.7 selectively has been challenging, however, in part due to uncertainties in which rodent pain models are dependent on Nav1.7. We have developed and characterized an adult-onset Nav1.7 KO mouse model that allows us to determine the expected effects of a theoretically perfect Nav1.7 blocker. Importantly, many commonly used pain models, such as mechanical allodynia after nerve injury, appear to not be dependent on Nav1.7 in the adult. By defining which models are Nav1.7 dependent, we demonstrate that selective Nav1.7 inhibitors can approximate the effects of genetic loss of function, which previously has not been directly established.

Keywords: Nav1.7; acylsulfonamide; congenital insensitivity to pain; drug development; pain; tamoxifen.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Female
  • Ganglia, Spinal / drug effects
  • Ganglia, Spinal / metabolism
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • NAV1.7 Voltage-Gated Sodium Channel / deficiency*
  • NAV1.7 Voltage-Gated Sodium Channel / genetics
  • Pain / drug therapy
  • Pain / genetics
  • Pain / metabolism*
  • Pain Insensitivity, Congenital / drug therapy
  • Pain Insensitivity, Congenital / genetics
  • Pain Insensitivity, Congenital / metabolism*
  • Pain Perception / drug effects
  • Pain Perception / physiology*
  • Sodium Channel Blockers / pharmacology
  • Sodium Channel Blockers / therapeutic use*


  • NAV1.7 Voltage-Gated Sodium Channel
  • Scn9a protein, mouse
  • Sodium Channel Blockers