Clinical pharmacology of potassium channel openers

Pharmacol Toxicol. 1992 Apr;70(4):244-54. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0773.1992.tb00466.x.


Opening of K+ channels in cell membranes with resulting increase in K+ conductance, shifts the membrane potential in a hyperpolarizing direction towards the K+ equilibrium potential. Hyperpolarization reduces the opening probability of ion channels involved in membrane depolarization and excitation is reduced. K+ channel openers are believed to hyperpolarize smooth muscle cells by a direct action on the cell membrane. The best known members of the group are cromakalim, nicorandil and pinacidil, but several new compounds are being evaluated. In addition, it has recently been shown that also clinically well-known drugs like, e.g. diazoxide and minoxidil exhibit K+ channel opening properties. Nicorandil and new compounds containing nitro groups have a dual mechanism of action, also activating guanylate cyclase, an effect that contributes to their cardiovascular effect profile. K+ channel openers have a wide range of effects. Some of their properties and actions are summarized, and their present applications and/or potential for future application, in e.g. hypertension, angina pectoris, asthma, bladder instability, and several other disorders are discussed. It is concluded that K+ channel openning represents an interesting pharmacological principle with many potential clinical applications. However, most available drugs do not seem to have a sufficient tissue selectivity to be useful therapeutic alternatives. Before the potential of the new members of the group on clinical trials can be properly evaluated, clinical experiences are needed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antihypertensive Agents / pharmacokinetics
  • Antihypertensive Agents / pharmacology*
  • Benzopyrans / pharmacology
  • Cardiovascular System / drug effects
  • Cromakalim
  • Guanidines / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Niacinamide / analogs & derivatives
  • Niacinamide / pharmacology
  • Nicorandil
  • Pinacidil
  • Potassium Channels / drug effects*
  • Pyrroles / pharmacology
  • Respiratory System / drug effects


  • Antihypertensive Agents
  • Benzopyrans
  • Guanidines
  • Potassium Channels
  • Pyrroles
  • Cromakalim
  • Niacinamide
  • Nicorandil
  • Pinacidil