Druggability of Voltage-Gated Sodium Channels-Exploring Old and New Drug Receptor Sites

Front Pharmacol. 2022 Mar 17;13:858348. doi: 10.3389/fphar.2022.858348. eCollection 2022.


Voltage-gated ion channels are important drug targets because they play crucial physiological roles in both excitable and non-excitable cells. About 15% of clinical drugs used for treating human diseases target ion channels. However, most of these drugs do not provide sufficient specificity to a single subtype of the channels and their off-target side effects can be serious and sometimes fatal. Recent advancements in imaging techniques have enabled us for the first time to visualize unique and hidden parts of voltage-gated sodium channels in different structural conformations, and to develop drugs that further target a selected functional state in each channel subtype with the potential for high precision and low toxicity. In this review we describe the druggability of voltage-gated sodium channels in distinct functional states, which could potentially be used to selectively target the channels. We review classical drug receptors in the channels that have recently been structurally characterized by cryo-electron microscopy with natural neurotoxins and clinical drugs. We further examine recent drug discoveries for voltage-gated sodium channels and discuss opportunities to use distinct, state-dependent receptor sites in the voltage sensors as unique drug targets. Finally, we explore potential new receptor sites that are currently unknown for sodium channels but may be valuable for future drug discovery. The advancement presented here will help pave the way for drug development that selectively targets voltage-gated sodium channels.

Keywords: drug development; drug receptors; fenestration; gating-modifier toxins; ion channels; neurotoxins; sodium channel druggability; sodium channel pharmacology.

Publication types

  • Review