Voltage-dependent sodium channels are essential for normal membrane excitability and contractility in adult skeletal muscle. The gene encoding the principal sodium channel α-subunit isoform in human skeletal muscle (SCN4A) has recently been shown to harbor point mutations in certain hereditary forms of periodic paralysis. We have carried out an analysis of the detailed structure of this gene including delineation of intron-exon boundaries by genomic DNA cloning and sequence analysis. The complete coding region of SCN4A is found in 32.5 kb of genomic DNA and consists of 24 exons (54 to = 2.2 kb) and 23 introns (97 bp-4.85 kb). The exon organization of the gene shows no relationship to the predicted functional domains of the channel protein and splice junctions interrupt many of the transmembrane segments. The genomic organization of sodium channels may have been partially conserved during evolution as evidenced by the observation that 10 of the 24 splice junctions in SCN4A are positioned in homologous locations in a putative sodium channel gene in Drosophila (para). The information presented here should be extremely useful both for further identifying sodium channel mutations and for gaining a better understanding of sodium channel evolution.
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