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Immunol Rev. 2009 Sep;231(1):59-87. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-065X.2009.00816.x.

The functional network of ion channels in T lymphocytes.

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Department of Physiology and Biophysics, and the Institute for Immunology, University of California, Irvine, Irvine, CA 92697-4561, USA.


For more than 25 years, it has been widely appreciated that Ca2+ influx is essential to trigger T-lymphocyte activation. Patch clamp analysis, molecular identification, and functional studies using blockers and genetic manipulation have shown that a unique contingent of ion channels orchestrates the initiation, intensity, and duration of the Ca2+ signal. Five distinct types of ion channels--Kv1.3, KCa3.1, Orai1+ stromal interacting molecule 1 (STIM1) [Ca2+-release activating Ca2+ (CRAC) channel], TRPM7, and Cl(swell)--comprise a network that performs functions vital for ongoing cellular homeostasis and for T-cell activation, offering potential targets for immunomodulation. Most recently, the roles of STIM1 and Orai1 have been revealed in triggering and forming the CRAC channel following T-cell receptor engagement. Kv1.3, KCa3.1, STIM1, and Orai1 have been found to cluster at the immunological synapse following contact with an antigen-presenting cell; we discuss how channels at the synapse might function to modulate local signaling. Immuno-imaging approaches are beginning to shed light on ion channel function in vivo. Importantly, the expression pattern of Ca2+ and K+ channels and hence the functional network can adapt depending upon the state of differentiation and activation, and this allows for different stages of an immune response to be targeted specifically.

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