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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1996 Sep 17;93(19):10489-94.

NO hyperpolarizes pulmonary artery smooth muscle cells and decreases the intracellular Ca2+ concentration by activating voltage-gated K+ channels.

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Department of Medicine, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD 21201, USA.


NO causes pulmonary vasodilation in patients with pulmonary hypertension. In pulmonary arterial smooth muscle cells, the activity of voltage-gated K+ (Kv) channels controls resting membrane potential. In turn, membrane potential is an important regulator of the intracellular free calcium concentration ([Ca2+]i) and pulmonary vascular tone. We used patch clamp methods to determine whether the NO-induced pulmonary vasodilation is mediated by activation of Kv channels. Quantitative fluorescence microscopy was employed to test the effect of NO on the depolarization-induced rise in [Ca2+]i. Blockade of Kv channels by 4-aminopyridine (5 mM) depolarized pulmonary artery myocytes to threshold for initiation of Ca2+ action potentials, and thereby increased [Ca2+]i. NO (approximately 3 microM) and the NO-generating compound sodium nitroprusside (5-10 microM) opened Kv channels in rat pulmonary artery smooth muscle cells. The enhanced K+ currents then hyperpolarized the cells, and blocked Ca(2+)-dependent action potentials, thereby preventing the evoked increases in [Ca2+]i. Nitroprusside also increased the probability of Kv channel opening in excised, outside-out membrane patches. This raises the possibility that NO may act either directly on the channel protein or on a closely associated molecule rather than via soluble guanylate cyclase. In isolated pulmonary arteries, 4-aminopyridine significantly inhibited NO-induced relaxation. We conclude that NO promotes the opening of Kv channels in pulmonary arterial smooth muscle cells. The resulting membrane hyperpolarization, which lowers [Ca2+]i, is apparently one of the mechanisms by which NO induces pulmonary vasodilation.

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