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Am J Physiol Lung Cell Mol Physiol. 2004 Jan;286(1):L49-67.

Activation of K+ channels: an essential pathway in programmed cell death.

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Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Dep[artment of Medicine, School of Medicine, University of California, San Diego, 92103-8382, USA.


Cell apoptosis and proliferation are two counterparts in sharing the responsibility for maintaining normal tissue homeostasis. In recent years, the process of the programmed cell death has gained much interest because of its influence on malignant cell growth and other pathological states. Apoptosis is characterized by a distinct series of morphological and biochemical changes that result in cell shrinkage, DNA breakdown, and, ultimately, phagocytic death. Diverse external and internal stimuli trigger apoptosis, and enhanced K+ efflux has been shown to be an essential mediator of not only early apoptotic cell shrinkage, but also of downstream caspase activation and DNA fragmentation. The goal of this review is to discuss the role(s) played by K+ transport or flux across the plasma membrane in the regulation of the apoptotic volume decrease and apoptosis. Attention has also been paid to the role of inner mitochondrial membrane ion transport in the regulation of mitochondrial permeability and apoptosis. We provide specific examples of how deregulation of the apoptotic process contributes to pulmonary arterial medial hypertrophy, a major pathological feature in patients with pulmonary arterial hypertension. Finally, we discuss the targeting of K+ channels as a potential therapeutic tool in modulating apoptosis to maintain the balance between cell proliferation and cell death that is essential to the normal development and function of an organism.

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