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WormBook. 2005 Dec 30:1-15.

Potassium channels in C. elegans.

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  • 1Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, Washington University School of Medicine, Saint Louis, MO 63110, USA. salkoffl@pcg.wustl.edu


Ion channels are the "transistors" (electronic switches) of the brain that generate and propagate electrical signals in the aqueous environment of the brain and nervous system. Potassium channels are particularly important because, not only do they shape dynamic electrical signaling, they also set the resting potentials of almost all animal cells. Without them, animal life as we know it would not exist, much less higher brain function. Until the completion of the C. elegans genome sequencing project the size and diversity of the potassium channel extended gene family was not fully appreciated. Sequence data eventually revealed a total of approximately 70 genes encoding potassium channels out of the more than 19,000 genes in the genome. This seemed to be an unexpectedly high number of genes encoding potassium channels for an animal with a small nervous system of only 302 neurons. However, it became clear that potassium channels are expressed in all cell types, not only neurons, and that many cells express a complex palette of multiple potassium channels. All types of potassium channels found in C. elegans are conserved in mammals. Clearly, C. elegans is "simple" only in having a limited number of cells dedicated to each organ system; it is certainly not simple with respect to its biochemistry and cell physiology.

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