The BK channel is a Ca(2+) and voltage-gated conductance responsible for shaping action potential waveforms in many types of neurons. Type II BK channels are differentiated from type I channels by their pharmacology and slow gating kinetics. The β4 accessory subunit confers type II properties on BK α subunits. Empirically derived properties of BK channels, with and without the β4 accessory subunit, were obtained using a heterologous expression system under physiological ionic conditions. These data were then used to study how BK channels alone (type I) and with the accessory β4 subunit (type II) modulate action potential properties in biophysical neuron models. Overall, the models support the hypothesis that it is the slower kinetics provided by the β4 subunit that endows the BK channel with type II properties, which leads to broadening of action potentials and, secondarily, to greater recruitment of SK channels reducing neuronal excitability. Two regions of parameter space distinguished type II and type I effects; one where the range of BK-activating Ca(2+) was high (>20 μM) and the other where BK-activating Ca(2+) was low (∼0.4-1.2 μM). The latter required an elevated BK channel density, possibly beyond a likely physiological range. BK-mediated sharpening of the spike waveform associated with the lack of the β4 subunit was sensitive to the properties of voltage-gated Ca(2+) channels due to electrogenic effects on spike duration. We also found that depending on Ca(2+) dynamics, type II BK channels may have the ability to contribute to the medium AHP, a property not generally ascribed to BK channels, influencing the frequency-current relationship. Finally, we show how the broadening of action potentials conferred by type II BK channels can also indirectly increase the recruitment of SK-type channels decreasing the excitability of the neuron.
Copyright © 2011 IBRO. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.