Potassium channels in the peripheral microcirculation

Microcirculation. Jan-Feb 2005;12(1):113-27. doi: 10.1080/10739680590896072.


Vascular smooth muscle (VSM) cells, endothelial cells (EC), and pericytes that form the walls of vessels in the microcirculation express a diverse array of ion channels that play an important role in the function of these cells and the microcirculation in both health and disease. This brief review focuses on the K+ channels expressed in smooth muscle and endothelial cells in arterioles. Microvascular VSM cells express at least four different classes of K+ channels, including inward-rectifier K+ channels (Kin), ATP-sensitive K+ channels (KATP), voltage-gated K+ channels (Kv), and large conductance Ca2+-activated K+ channels (BKCa). VSM KIR participate in dilation induced by elevated extracellular K+ and may also be activated by C-type natriuretic peptide, a putative endothelium-derived hyperpolarizing factor (EDHF). Vasodilators acting through cAMP or cGMP signaling pathways in VSM may open KATP, Kv, and BKCa, causing membrane hyperpolarization and vasodilation. VSMBKc. may also be activated by epoxides of arachidonic acid (EETs) identified as EDHF in some systems. Conversely, vasoconstrictors may close KATP, Kv, and BKCa through protein kinase C, Rho-kinase, or c-Src pathways and contribute to VSM depolarization and vasoconstriction. At the same time Kv and BKCa act in a negative feedback manner to limit depolarization and prevent vasospasm. Microvascular EC express at least 5 classes of K+ channels, including small (sKCa) and intermediate(IKCa) conductance Ca2+-activated K+ channels, Kin, KATP, and Kv. Both sK and IK are opened by endothelium-dependent vasodilators that increase EC intracellular Ca2+ to cause membrane hyper-polarization that may be conducted through myoendothelial gap junctions to hyperpolarize and relax arteriolar VSM. KIR may serve to amplify sKCa- and IKCa-induced hyperpolarization and allow active transmission of hyperpolarization along EC through gap junctions. EC KIR channels may also be opened by elevated extracellular K+ and participate in K+-induced vasodilation. EC KATP channels may be activated by vasodilators as in VSM. Kv channels may provide a negative feedback mechanism to limit depolarization in some endothelial cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Endothelium, Vascular / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Microcirculation / chemistry
  • Microcirculation / cytology
  • Microcirculation / physiology*
  • Muscle, Smooth, Vascular / chemistry
  • Potassium Channels / physiology*


  • Potassium Channels