Potassium channels are a family of ion channels that govern the intrinsic electrical properties of neurons in the brain. Molecular cloning has revealed over 100 genes encoding the pore-forming alpha subunits of potassium channels in mammals, making them the most diverse subset of ion channels. Multiplicity in this ion channel family is further generated through alternative splicing. The precise location of potassium channels along the dendro-somato-axonic surface of the neurons is an important factor in determining its functional impact. Today, it is widely accepted that potassium channels can be located at any subcellular compartment on the neuronal surface, at synaptic and extrasynaptic sites, from somata to dendritic shafts, dendritic spines, axons or axon terminals. However, they are not evenly distributed on the neuronal surface and depending on the potassium channel subtype, are instead concentrated at different compartments. This selective localization of ion channels to specific neuronal compartments has many different functional implications. One factor necessary to understand the role of potassium channels in neuronal function is to unravel their specialized distribution and subcellular localization within a cell, and this can only be achieved by electron microscopy. In this review, I summarize anatomical findings, describing their distribution in the central nervous system. The distinct regional, cellular and subcellular distribution of potassium channels in the brain will be discussed in view of their possible functional implications.
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