Cav3 T-type channels: regulators for gating, membrane expression, and cation selectivity

Senatore A, Guan W, Spafford JD

Pflugers Arch. 2014 Apr;466(4):645-60

PMID: 24515291


Cav3 T-type channels are low-voltage-gated channels with rapid kinetics that are classified among the calcium-selective Cav1 and Cav2 type channels. Here, we outline the fundamental and unique regulators of T-type channels. An ubiquitous and proximally located “gating brake” works in concert with the voltage-sensor domain and S6 alpha-helical segment from domain II to set the canonical low-threshold and transient gating features of T-type channels. Gene splicing of optional exon 25c (and/or exon 26) in the short III-IV linker provides a developmental switch between modes of activity, such as activating in response to membrane depolarization, to channels requiring hyperpolarization input before being available to activate. Downstream of the gating brake in the I-II linker is a key region for regulating channel expression where alternative splicing patterns correlate with functional diversity of spike patterns, pacemaking rate (especially in the heart), stage of development, and animal size. A small but persistent window conductance depolarizes cells and boosts excitability at rest. T-type channels possess an ion selectivity that can resemble not only the calcium ion exclusive Cav1 and Cav2 channels but also the sodium ion selectivity of Nav1 sodium channels too. Alternative splicing in the extracellular turret of domain II generates highly sodium-permeable channels, which contribute to low-threshold sodium spikes. Cav3 channels are more ubiquitous among multicellular animals and more widespread in tissues than the more brain centric Nav1 sodium channels in invertebrates. Highly sodium-permeant Cav3 channels can functionally replace Nav1 channels in species where they are lacking, such as in Caenorhabditis elegans.