Role of ion channels in acute and chronic responses of the pulmonary vasculature to hypoxia

Cardiovasc Res. 2006 Sep 1;71(4):630-41. doi: 10.1016/j.cardiores.2006.04.014. Epub 2006 Apr 27.


Localized alveolar hypoxia causes constriction of the small resistance pulmonary arteries, thus diverting the desaturated, mixed-venous blood to better ventilated areas of the lung. Although modulated by endothelial vasoactive substances, the constrictor response to hypoxia is intrinsic to the smooth muscle cell. Ion channels are important elements in two of the three components of the response. Hypoxia inhibits several potassium channels (voltage-gated and TASK), leading to membrane depolarization and calcium entry through L-type channels. It also causes release of calcium from the sarcoplasmic reticulum, with consequent repletion through store-operated calcium channels. Finally, the effect of the rise in cytosolic calcium is amplified by enhanced calcium sensitivity of the actin/myosin interaction, achieved by the hypoxia-induced increase in Rho-kinase activity. The change in oxygen tension that stimulates these three "executive" components is signaled by a change in the redox status of the smooth muscle cell and probably by downstream changes in G-proteins. Ion channels also play a critical role in the vascular remodeling that results in chronic hypoxic pulmonary hypertension, seen when all the pulmonary vascular bed is hypoxic, at high altitude and in patients with chronic lung diseases. The same inhibition of potassium channels and influx of calcium results in high cytosolic levels of potassium and calcium. These, respectively, lead to inhibition of apoptosis and an increase in cellular proliferation. A better understanding of the pathophysiology of hypoxic pulmonary vasoconstriction and vascular remodeling will enable the design of better treatments for hypoxic and other forms of pulmonary hypertension.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Animals
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hypertension, Pulmonary / metabolism
  • Hypoxia / metabolism*
  • Hypoxia / physiopathology
  • Ion Channel Gating*
  • Ion Channels / metabolism*
  • Pulmonary Artery / physiology
  • Pulmonary Circulation*
  • Pulmonary Edema / metabolism
  • Vasoconstriction / physiology*


  • Ion Channels
  • Calcium