Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from BMC Evolutionary Biology and BioMed Central.

Open Access Research article

Molecular cloning and analysis of zebrafish voltage-gated sodium channel beta subunit genes: implications for the evolution of electrical signaling in vertebrates

Sameer S Chopra1, Hiroshi Watanabe1, Tao P Zhong23 and Dan M Roden13*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Pharmacology, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, TN, 37232, USA

2 Cell & Developmental Biology, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, TN, 37232, USA

3 Medicine, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, TN, 37232, USA

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2007, 7:113  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-7-113

Published: 10 July 2007

Abstract

Background

Action potential generation in excitable cells such as myocytes and neurons critically depends on voltage-gated sodium channels. In mammals, sodium channels exist as macromolecular complexes that include a pore-forming alpha subunit and 1 or more modulatory beta subunits. Although alpha subunit genes have been cloned from diverse metazoans including flies, jellyfish, and humans, beta subunits have not previously been identified in any non-mammalian species. To gain further insight into the evolution of electrical signaling in vertebrates, we investigated beta subunit genes in the teleost Danio rerio (zebrafish).

Results

We identified and cloned single zebrafish gene homologs for beta1-beta3 (zbeta1-zbeta3) and duplicate genes for beta4 (zbeta4.1, zbeta4.2). Sodium channel beta subunit loci are similarly organized in fish and mammalian genomes. Unlike their mammalian counterparts, zbeta1 and zbeta2 subunit genes display extensive alternative splicing. Zebrafish beta subunit genes and their splice variants are differentially-expressed in excitable tissues, indicating tissue-specific regulation of zbeta1-4 expression and splicing. Co-expression of the genes encoding zbeta1 and the zebrafish sodium channel alpha subunit Nav1.5 in Chinese Hamster Ovary cells increased sodium current and altered channel gating, demonstrating functional interactions between zebrafish alpha and beta subunits. Analysis of the synteny and phylogeny of mammalian, teleost, amphibian, and avian beta subunit and related genes indicated that all extant vertebrate beta subunits are orthologous, that beta2/beta4 and beta1/beta3 share common ancestry, and that beta subunits are closely related to other proteins sharing the V-type immunoglobulin domain structure. Vertebrate sodium channel beta subunit genes were not identified in the genomes of invertebrate chordates and are unrelated to known subunits of the para sodium channel in Drosophila.

Conclusion

The identification of conserved orthologs to all 4 voltage-gated sodium channel beta subunit genes in zebrafish and the lack of evidence for beta subunit genes in invertebrate chordates together indicate that this gene family emerged early in vertebrate evolution, prior to the divergence of teleosts and tetrapods. The evolutionary history of sodium channel beta subunits suggests that these genes may have played a key role in the diversification and specialization of electrical signaling in early vertebrates.