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Reconciling ion channel alpha-subunit expression with native ionic currents and their pharmacological sensitivity in target organs has proved difficult. In native tissue, many K(+) channel alpha-subunits co-assemble with ancillary subunits, which can profoundly affect physiological parameters including gating kinetics and pharmacological interactions. In this review, we examine the link between voltage-gated potassium ion channel pharmacology and the biophysics of ancillary subunits. We propose that ancillary subunits can modify the interaction between pore blockers and ion channels by three distinct mechanisms: changes in (1) binding site accessibility; (2) orientation of pore-lining residues; (3) the ability of the channel to undergo post-binding conformational changes. Each of these subunit-induced changes has implications for gating, drug affinity and use dependence of their respective channel complexes. A single subunit may modulate its associated alpha-subunit by more than one of these mechanisms. Voltage-gated potassium channels are the site of action of many therapeutic drugs. In addition, potassium channels interact with drugs whose primary target is another channel, e.g. the calcium channel blocker nifedipine, the sodium channel blocker quinidine, etc. Even when K(+) channel block is the intended mode of action, block of related channels in non-target organs, e.g. the heart, can result in major and potentially lethal side-effects. Understanding factors that determine specificity, use dependence and other properties of K(+) channel drug binding are therefore of vital clinical importance. Ancillary subunits play a key role in determining these properties in native tissue, and so understanding channel-subunit interactions is vital to understanding clinical pharmacology.


Glenna C L Bett, Randall L Rasmusson. Modification of K+ channel-drug interactions by ancillary subunits. The Journal of physiology. 2008 Feb 15;586(4):929-50

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PMID: 18096604

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