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Cardiovasc Res. 2004 Apr 1;62(1):9-33.

Pharmacology of cardiac potassium channels.

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  • 1Department of Pharmacology, School of Medicine, Universidad Complutense, 28040 Madrid, Spain.


Cardiac K+ channels are membrane-spanning proteins that allow the passive movement of K+ ions across the cell membrane along its electrochemical gradient. They regulate the resting membrane potential, the frequency of pacemaker cells and the shape and duration of the cardiac action potential. Additionally, they have been recognized as potential targets for the actions of neurotransmitters and hormones and class III antiarrhythmic drugs that prolong the action potential duration (APD) and refractoriness and have been found effective to prevent/suppress cardiac arrhythmias. In the human heart, K+ channels include voltage-gated channels, such as the rapidly activating and inactivating transient outward current (Ito1), the ultrarapid (IKur), rapid (IKr) and slow (IKs) components of the delayed rectifier current and the inward rectifier current (IK1), the ligand-gated channels, including the adenosine triphosphate-sensitive (IKATP) and the acetylcholine-activated (IKAch) currents and the leak channels. Changes in the expression of K+ channels explain the regional variations in the morphology and duration of the cardiac action potential among different cardiac regions and are influenced by heart rate, intracellular signalling pathways, drugs and cardiovascular disorders. A progressive number of cardiac and noncardiac drugs block cardiac K+ channels and can cause a marked prolongation of the action potential duration (i.e. an acquired long QT syndrome, LQTS) and a distinct polymorphic ventricular tachycardia termed torsades de pointes. In addition, mutations in the genes encoding IKr (KCNH2/KCNE2) and IKs (KCNQ1/KCNE1) channels have been identified in some types of the congenital long QT syndrome. This review concentrates on the function, molecular determinants, regulation and, particularly, on the mechanism of action of drugs modulating the K+ channels present in the sarcolemma of human cardiac myocytes that contribute to the different phases of the cardiac action potential under physiological and pathological conditions.

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