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J Biol Chem. 2006 Mar 3;281(9):5877-84. Epub 2006 Jan 11.

Chronic inhibition of cardiac Kir2.1 and HERG potassium channels by celastrol with dual effects on both ion conductivity and protein trafficking.

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  • 1Department of Neuroscience and High Throughput Biology Center, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, 733 North Broadway, Baltimore, MD 21205, USA.


A high percentage of drugs and drug candidates has been found to cause cardiotoxicity by reducing potassium conductance, more commonly known as QT prolongation. However, some compounds do not show direct block of ionic flow, suggesting that other mechanisms may also lead to reduction of potassium currents. Using the functional recovery after chemobleaching (FRAC) assay, we have examined a collection of drugs and drug-like compounds for potential perturbation of cardiac potassium channel trafficking. Here we report that a significant number of inhibitory compounds displayed effects on channel expression on the cell surface. Further investigation of celastrol (3-hydroxy-24-nor-2-oxo-1 (10),3,5,7-friedelatetraen-29-oic acid), a cell-permeable dienonephenolic triterpene compound, revealed its potent inhibitory activity on both Kir2.1 and hERG potassium channels, causal to QT prolongation. In addition to acute block of ion conduction, celastrol also alters the rate of ion channel transport and causes a reduction of channel density on the cell surface. In contrast, celastrol has no effects on trafficking of either CD4 or CD8 membrane proteins. Furthermore, the potency for reducing surface expression is approximately 5-10-fold more effective than that for either direct acute inhibition or reported cytoprotectivity via activation of the heat shock transcription factor 1. Because the reduction of potassium channel activity is a common form of druginduced cardiotoxicity, the potent inhibition of cell surface expression by celastrol underscores a need to evaluate drug candidates for their chronic effects on biogenesis of potassium channels. Our results suggest that chronic exposure to certain drugs may be an important aspect of acquired QT prolongation.

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