2008 Volume 44 Issue 2 Pages 65-81
In this review, we present the basic properties, physiological functions, regulation, and pathological alterations of four major classes of K+ channels that have been detected in vascular smooth muscle cells. Voltage-dependent K+ (Kv) channels open upon depolarization of the plasma membrane in vascular smooth muscle cells. The subsequent efflux of K+ through the channels induces repolarization to the resting membrane potential. Changes in the intracellular Ca2+ concentration and membrane depolarization stimulate large-conductance Ca2+-activated K+ (BKCa) channels, which are thought to play an important role in maintaining the membrane potential. ATP-sensitive K+ (KATP) channels underscore the functional bond between cellular metabolism and membrane excitability. The blockade of KATP channel function results in vasoconstriction and depolarization in various types of vascular smooth muscle. Inward rectifier K+ (Kir) channels, which are expressed in smooth muscle of the small-diameter arteries, contribute to the resting membrane potential and basal tone. Kir channel activation has been shown to raise the extracellular K+ concentration to 10-15 mM, resulting in vasodilation. Each of K+ channels listed above is responsive to a number of vasoconstrictors and vasodilators, which act through protein kinase C (PKC) and protein kinase A (PKA), respectively. Impaired Kv, KATP, and Kir channel functions has been linked to a number of pathological conditions, which may lead to vasoconstriction.