The small fiber neuropathy NaV1.7 I228M mutation: impaired neurite integrity via bioenergetic and mitotoxic mechanisms, and protection by dexpramipexole

Seong-il Lee, Janneke G. J. Hoeijmakers, Catharina G. Faber, Ingemar S. J. Merkies, Giuseppe Lauria, Stephen G. Waxman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

4 Citations (Web of Science)
13 Downloads (Pure)


Gain-of-function variants in voltage-gated sodium channel NaV1.7 that increase firing frequency and spontaneous firing of dorsal root ganglion (MG) neurons have recently been identified in 5-10% of patients with idiopathic small fiber neuropathy (I-SFN). Our previous in vitro observations suggest that enhanced sodium channel activity can contribute to a decrease in length of peripheral sensory axons. We have hypothesized that sustained sodium influx due to the expression of SFN-associated sodium channel variants may trigger an energetic deficit in neurons that contributes to degeneration and loss of nerve fibers in SFN. Using an ATP FRET biosensor, we now demonstrate reduced steady-state levels of ATP and markedly faster ATP decay in response to membrane depolarization in cultured DRG neurons expressing an SFN-associated variant NaV1.7, I228M, compared with wild-type neurons. We also observed that I228M neurons show a significant reduction in mitochondrial density and size, indicating dysfunctional mitochondria and a reduced bioenergetic capacity. Finally, we report that exposure to dexpramipexole, a drug that improves mitochondrial energy metabolism. increases the neurite length of I228M-expressing neurons. Our data suggest that expression of gain-of-function variants of NaV1.7 can damage mitochondria and compromise cellular capacity for ATP production. The resulting bioenergetic crisis can consequently contribute to loss of axons in SFN. We suggest that, in addition to interventions that reduce ionic disturbance caused by mutant NaV1.7 channels, an alternative therapeutic strategy might target the bioenergetic burden and mitochondrial damage that occur in SFN associated with NaV1.7 gain-of-function mutations.

NEW & NOTEWORTHY Sodium channel NaV1.7 mutations that increase dorsal root ganglion (MG) neuron excitability have been identified in small fiber neuropathy (SFN). We demonstrate reduced steady-state ATP levels, faster depolarization-evoked ATP decay, and reduced mitochondrial density and size in cultured DRG neurons expressing SFN-associated variant NaV1.7 I228M. Dexpramipexole, which improves mitochondrial energy metabolism, has a protective effect. Because gain-of-function NaV1.7 variants can compromise bioenergetics, therapeutic strategies that target bioenergetic burden and mitochondrial damage merit study in SFN.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)645-657
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Neurophysiology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2020


  • bioenergetics
  • gain of function
  • mitotoxicity
  • NaV1.7
  • neuropathy

Cite this