Ion channels are ubiquitous transmembrane proteins that are involved in a wide variety of cellular functions by selectively controlling the passage of ions across the plasma membrane. Among these functions many immune processes, including those in autoimmune reactions, also rely on the operation of ion channels, but the roles of ion channels can be very diverse. Here the participation of ion channels in three different roles in autoimmune processes is discussed: 1. ion channels in effector immune cells attacking other tissues causing autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis; 2. ion channels as direct targets of the immune system whereby loss of channel function leads to disease, as in myasthenia gravis; 3. ion channels whose function is modulated in the target cells by an apoptotic signal transduction cascade, such as the Fas/Fas ligand pathway. The numerous tasks that ion channels perform in autoimmune disorders and the wealth of information that has been gathered about them in recent years together provide a good basis for the design and production of drugs that may be effectively used in the therapy of these diseases.
Keywords: Ion channel, autoimmunity, autoantibody, T cell, channelopathy, Fas signaling
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