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Am J Physiol Cell Physiol. 2010 Jul;299(1):C74-86. doi: 10.1152/ajpcell.00462.2009. Epub 2010 Apr 7.

Ceramide modulates HERG potassium channel gating by translocation into lipid rafts.

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  • 1Department of Pharmacology, Pennsylvania State College of Medicine, Hershey, PA 17033, USA.


Human ether-à-go-go-related gene (HERG) potassium channels play an important role in cardiac action potential repolarization, and HERG dysfunction can cause cardiac arrhythmias. However, recent evidence suggests a role for HERG in the proliferation and progression of multiple types of cancers, making it an attractive target for cancer therapy. Ceramide is an important second messenger of the sphingolipid family, which due to its proapoptotic properties has shown promising results in animal models as an anticancer agent. Yet the acute effects of ceramide on HERG potassium channels are not known. In the present study we examined the effects of cell-permeable C(6)-ceramide on HERG potassium channels stably expressed in HEK-293 cells. C(6)-ceramide (10 microM) reversibly inhibited HERG channel current (I(HERG)) by 36 +/- 5%. Kinetically, ceramide induced a significant hyperpolarizing shift in the current-voltage relationship (DeltaV(1/2) = -8 +/- 0.5 mV) and increased the deactivation rate (43 +/- 3% for tau(fast) and 51 +/- 3% for tau(slow)). Mechanistically, ceramide recruited HERG channels within caveolin-enriched lipid rafts. Cholesterol depletion and repletion experiments and mathematical modeling studies confirmed that inhibition and gating effects are mediated by separate mechanisms. The ceramide-induced hyperpolarizing gating shift (raft mediated) could offset the impact of inhibition (raft independent) during cardiac action potential repolarization, so together they may nullify any negative impact on cardiac rhythm. Our results provide new insights into the effects of C(6)-ceramide on HERG channels and suggest that C(6)-ceramide can be a promising therapeutic for cancers that overexpress HERG.

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