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Curr Pharm Des. 2005;11(15):1915-40.

ATP-sensitive potassium channels.

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  • 1Department of Cell Physiology and Pharmacology, University of Leicester, PO Box 138, Leicester LE1 9HN, UK.


ATP-sensitive potassium (K(ATP)) channels link membrane excitability to metabolism. They are regulated by intracellular nucleotides and by other factors including membrane phospholipids, protein kinases and phosphatases. K(ATP) channels comprise octamers of four Kir6 pore-forming subunits associated with four sulphonylurea receptor subunits. The exact subunit composition differs between the tissues in which the channels are expressed, which include pancreas, cardiac, smooth and skeletal muscle and brain. K(ATP) channels are targets for antidiabetic sulphonylurea blockers, and for channel opening drugs that are used as antianginals and antihypertensives. This review focuses on non-pancreatic K(ATP) channels. In vascular smooth muscle, K(ATP) channels are extensively regulated by signalling pathways and cause vasodilation, contributing both to resting blood flow and vasodilator-induced increases in flow. Similarly, K(ATP) channel activation relaxes smooth muscle of the bladder, gastrointestinal tract and airways. In cardiac muscle, sarcolemmal K(ATP) channels open to protect cells under stress conditions such as ischaemia or exercise, and appear central to the protection induced by ischaemic preconditioning (IPC). Mitochondrial K(ATP) channels are also strongly implicated in IPC, but clarification of their exact role awaits information on their molecular structure. Skeletal muscle K(ATP) channels play roles in fatigue and recovery, K+ efflux, and glucose uptake, while neuronal channels may provide ischaemic protection and underlie the glucose-responsiveness of hypothalamic neurones. Current therapeutic considerations include the use of K(ATP) openers to protect cardiac muscle, attempts to develop openers selective for airway or bladder, and the question of whether block of extra-pancreatic K(ATP) channels may cause adverse cardiovascular side-effects of sulphonylureas.

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