The voltage-gated sodium channel Na(v)1.8 is known to function in the transmission of pain signals induced by cold, heat, and mechanical stimuli. Sequence variants of human Na(v)1.8 have been linked to altered cardiac conduction. We identified an allele of Scn10a encoding the α-subunit of Na(v)1.8 among mice homozygous for N-ethyl-N-nitrosourea-induced mutations. The allele creates a dominant neurobehavioral phenotype termed Possum, characterized by transient whole-body tonic immobility induced by pinching the skin at the back of the neck ("scruffing"). The Possum mutation enhanced Na(v)1.8 sodium currents and neuronal excitability and heightened sensitivity of mutants to cold stimuli. Striking electroencephalographic changes were observed concomitant with the scruffing-induced behavioral change. In addition, electrocardiography demonstrated that Possum mice exhibited marked sinus bradycardia and R-R variability upon scruffing, abrogated by infusion of atropine. However, atropine failed to prevent or mitigate the tonic immobility response. Hyperactive sodium conduction via Na(v)1.8 thus leads to a complex neurobehavioral phenotype, which resembles catatonia in schizophrenic humans and tonic immobility in other mammals upon application of a discrete stimulus; no other form of mechanosensory stimulus could induce the immobility phenotype. Our data confirm the involvement of Na(v)1.8 in transducing pain initiated by cold and additionally implicate Na(v)1.8 in previously unknown functions in the central nervous system and heart.
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