Sodium channels are principal molecular determinants responsible for myocardial conduction and maintenance of the cardiac rhythm. Calcium ions (Ca2+) have a fundamental role in the coupling of cardiac myocyte excitation and contraction, yet mechanisms whereby intracellular Ca2+ may directly modulate Na channel function have yet to be identified. Here we show that calmodulin (CaM), a ubiquitous Ca2+-sensing protein, binds to the carboxy-terminal 'IQ' domains of the human cardiac Na channel (hH1) in a Ca2+-dependent manner. This binding interaction significantly enhances slow inactivation-a channel-gating process linked to life-threatening idiopathic ventricular arrhythmias2,3. Mutations targeted to the IQ domain disrupted CaM binding and eliminated Ca2+/CaM-dependent slow inactivation, whereas the gating effects of Ca2+/CaM were restored by intracellular application of a peptide modelled after the IQ domain. A naturally occurring mutation (A1924T) in the IQ domain altered hH1 function in a manner characteristic of the Brugada arrhythmia syndrome4,5, but at the same time inhibited slow inactivation induced by Ca2+/CaM, yielding a clinically benign (arrhythmia free) phenotype.
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