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J Biol Chem. 2007 Aug 24;282(34):24485-9. Epub 2007 Jul 2.

A marriage of convenience: beta-subunits and voltage-dependent K+ channels.

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Department of Biophysics and Molecular Physiology, Centro de Estudios Cientificos, Valdivia 5110246, Chile.


The movement of ions across cell membranes is essential for a wide variety of fundamental physiological processes, including secretion, muscle contraction, and neuronal excitation. This movement is possible because of the presence in the cell membrane of a class of integral membrane proteins dubbed ion channels. Ion channels, thanks to the presence of aqueous pores in their structure, catalyze the passage of ions across the otherwise ion-impermeable lipid bilayer. Ion conduction across ion channels is highly regulated, and in the case of voltage-dependent K(+) channels, the molecular foundations of the voltage-dependent conformational changes leading to the their open (conducting) configuration have provided most of the driving force for research in ion channel biophysics since the pioneering work of Hodgkin and Huxley (Hodgkin, A. L., and Huxley, A. F. (1952) J. Physiol. 117, 500-544). The voltage-dependent K(+) channels are the prototypical voltage-gated channels and govern the resting membrane potential. They are responsible for returning the membrane potential to its resting state at the termination of each action potential in excitable membranes. The pore-forming subunits (alpha) of many voltage-dependent K(+) channels and modulatory beta-subunits exist in the membrane as one component of macromolecular complexes, able to integrate a myriad of cellular signals that regulate ion channel behavior. In this review, we have focused on the modulatory effects of beta-subunits on the voltage-dependent K(+) (Kv) channel and on the large conductance Ca(2+)- and voltage-dependent (BK(Ca)) channel.

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