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EMBO J. 2010 Nov 17;29(22):3869-78. doi: 10.1038/emboj.2010.253. Epub 2010 Oct 29.

Critical role for hyperpolarization-activated cyclic nucleotide-gated channel 2 in the AIF-mediated apoptosis.

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Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.


Cellular calcium uptake is a controlled physiological process mediated by multiple ion channels. The exposure of cells to either one of the protein kinase C (PKC) inhibitors, staurosporine (STS) or PKC412, can trigger Ca²(+) influx leading to cell death. The precise molecular mechanisms regulating these events remain elusive. In this study, we report that the PKC inhibitors induce a prolonged Ca²(+) import through hyperpolarization-activated cyclic nucleotide-gated channel 2 (HCN2) in lung carcinoma cells and in primary culture of cortical neurons, sufficient to trigger apoptosis-inducing factor (AIF)-mediated apoptosis. Downregulation of HCN2 prevented the drug-induced Ca²(+) increase and subsequent apoptosis. Importantly, the PKC inhibitors did not cause Ca²(+) entry into HEK293 cells, which do not express the HCN channels. However, introduction of HCN2 sensitized them to STS/PKC412-induced apoptosis. Mutagenesis of putative PKC phosphorylation sites within the C-terminal domain of HCN2 revealed that dephosphorylation of Thr⁵⁴⁹ was critical for the prolonged Ca²(+) entry required for AIF-mediated apoptosis. Our findings demonstrate a novel role for the HCN2 channel by providing evidence that it can act as an upstream regulator of cell death triggered by PKC inhibitors.

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