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Am J Physiol Cell Physiol. 2011 Apr;300(4):C792-802. doi: 10.1152/ajpcell.00274.2010. Epub 2010 Dec 1.

Calcium-activated K+ channels increase cell proliferation independent of K+ conductance.

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Faculty of Life Sciences, The University of Manchester, United Kingdom.


The intermediate-conductance calcium-activated potassium channel (IK1) promotes cell proliferation of numerous cell types including endothelial cells, T lymphocytes, and several cancer cell lines. The mechanism underlying IK1-mediated cell proliferation was examined in human embryonic kidney 293 (HEK293) cells expressing recombinant human IK1 (hIK1) channels. Inhibition of hIK1 with TRAM-34 reduced cell proliferation, while expression of hIK1 in HEK293 cells increased proliferation. When HEK293 cells were transfected with a mutant (GYG/AAA) hIK1 channel, which neither conducts K(+) ions nor promotes Ca(2+) entry, proliferation was increased relative to mock-transfected cells. Furthermore, when HEK293 cells were transfected with a trafficking mutant (L18A/L25A) hIK1 channel, proliferation was also increased relative to control cells. The lack of functional activity of hIK1 mutants at the cell membrane was confirmed by a combination of whole cell patch-clamp electrophysiology and fura-2 imaging to assess store-operated Ca(2+) entry and cell surface immunoprecipitation assays. Moreover, in cells expressing hIK1, inhibition of ERK1/2 and JNK kinases, but not of p38 MAP kinase, reduced cell proliferation. We conclude that functional K(+) efflux at the plasma membrane and the consequent hyperpolarization and enhanced Ca(2+) entry are not necessary for hIK1-induced HEK293 cell proliferation. Rather, our data suggest that hIK1-induced proliferation occurs by a direct interaction with ERK1/2 and JNK signaling pathways.

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