Aging is a major risk factor for cardiovascular diseases, one of the main world-wide causes of death. Several structural and functional changes occur in the cardiovascular system during the aging process and the mechanisms involved in such alterations are yet to be completely described. BK channels are transmembrane proteins that play a key role in many physiological processes, including regulation of vascular tone. In vascular smooth muscle cells, BK opening and the consequent efflux of potassium (K(+)) leads to membrane hyperpolarization, which is followed by the closure of voltage-dependent Ca(2+) channels, reduction of Ca(2+) entry and vasodilatation. BK regulates nitric oxide-mediated vasodilatation and thus is crucial for normal endothelial function. Herein we will briefly review general structural properties of BK and focus on their function in the cardiovascular system emphasizing their role in cardiovascular aging and diseases.
Keywords: BK; Calcium-activated potassium channels; aging; cardiovascular diseases; endothelium; vascular smooth muscle cells.