The axon initial segment (AIS) is a specialized region in neurons where action potentials are initiated. It is commonly assumed that this process requires a high density of voltage-gated sodium (Na+) channels. Paradoxically, the results of patch-clamp studies suggest that the Na+ channel density at the AIS is similar to that at the soma and proximal dendrites. Here we provide data obtained by antibody staining, whole-cell voltage-clamp and Na+ imaging, together with modeling, which indicate that the Na+ channel density at the AIS of cortical pyramidal neurons is ∼50 times that in the proximal dendrites. Anchoring of Na+ channels to the cytoskeleton can explain this discrepancy, as disruption of the actin cytoskeleton increased the Na+ current measured in patches from the AIS. Computational models required a high Na+ channel density (∼2,500 pS μm−2) at the AIS to account for observations on action potential generation and backpropagation. In conclusion, action potential generation requires a high Na+ channel density at the AIS, which is maintained by tight anchoring to the actin cytoskeleton.
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We thank W. Catterall for the gift of the pan-alpha sodium channel antibody. This work was supported by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (G.J.S.) and a NRSA Senior Fellowship (P.C.R.).
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Kole, M., Ilschner, S., Kampa, B. et al. Action potential generation requires a high sodium channel density in the axon initial segment. Nat Neurosci 11, 178–186 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1038/nn2040
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