Neuropeptides and degenerin/epithelial Na+ channels: a relationship from mammals to cnidarians

J Physiol. 2023 May;601(9):1583-1595. doi: 10.1113/JP282309. Epub 2022 Dec 8.


Ion channels of the degenerin (DEG)/epithelial Na+ channel (ENaC) family serve diverse functions ranging from mechanosensation over Na+ reabsorption to H+ sensing and neurotransmission. However, several diverse DEG/ENaCs interact with neuropeptides; some are directly activated, whereas others are modulated by neuropeptides. Two questions arise: does this interaction have a common structural basis and does it have an ancient origin? Current evidence suggests that RFamide neuropeptides activate the FMRFamide-activated Na+ channels (FaNaCs) of invertebrates via binding to a pocket at the external face of their large extracellular domain. It is likely that RFamides might activate DEG/ENaCs from the freshwater polyp Hydra (the HyNaCs) via binding to a similar pocket, although there is not yet any experimental evidence. In contrast, RFamide neuropeptides modulate acid-sensing ion channels (ASICs) from vertebrates via binding to a central cavity enclosed by β-sheets of the extracellular domain. Dynorphin opioid peptides, for their part, bind to the acidic pocket of ASICs, which might be evolutionarily related to the peptide binding pocket of FaNaCs, but instead of opening the channels they work as antagonists to stabilize its closed state. Moreover, peptides interacting with DEG/ENaCs from animals of different phyla, although having similar sequences, are evolutionarily unrelated to each other. Collectively, it appears that despite a seemingly similar interaction with similar peptides, the interaction of DEG/ENaCs with neuropeptides has diverse structural bases and many origins.

Keywords: FMRFamide; FMRFamide-activated Na+ channel; Hydra; acid-sensing ion channel; dynorphin; myoinhibitory peptide.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acid Sensing Ion Channels / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Cnidaria* / metabolism
  • Degenerin Sodium Channels / metabolism
  • Epithelial Sodium Channels / metabolism
  • Ions / metabolism
  • Mammals / metabolism
  • Neuropeptides* / metabolism
  • Peptides


  • Degenerin Sodium Channels
  • Neuropeptides
  • Peptides
  • Acid Sensing Ion Channels
  • Ions
  • Epithelial Sodium Channels