Phosphorylation of ion channels

J Membr Biol. 1985;87(3):177-90. doi: 10.1007/BF01871217.


The introduction of highly specific reagents such as enzymes and inhibitors directly into living cells has proven to be a powerful tool in studying the modulation of cellular activity by protein phosphorylation. The use of exogenous kinases can be thought of as a pharmacological approach: this demonstrates that phosphorylation can produce modulation, but does not address the question of whether the cell actually uses this mechanism under normal physiological conditions. The complementary approach, the introduction of highly specific inhibitors such as R subunit or PKI, does ask whether endogenous kinase activity is necessary for a given physiological response. Together these two approaches have provided rather compelling evidence that cAMP-dependent and calcium/phospholipid-dependent protein phosphorylations can regulate membrane excitability. In several cases single-channel analysis has allowed the demonstration that an ion channel itself or something very close to the channel is the phosphorylation target, and it seems reasonable to assume that this will also be the case for many if not all of the other systems described above. Have any general principles emerged from the results to date? Certainly it seems clear that protein phosphorylation regulates not one but many classes of ion channels. As summarized in the Table, different channels can be modulated in different cells, some channels are activated while others are inhibited, and in some cells more than one channel is subject to modulation by phosphorylation. The list in the Table is probably not yet complete, and indeed it is not inconceivable that all ion channels can under appropriate conditions be regulated by phosphorylation. What aspect of channel function is altered by phosphorylation? The total membrane current, I, carried by a particular species of ion channel is given by Npi, where N is the number of active channels in the membrane, p is the probability that an individual channel will be open, and i is the single-channel current. In principle a change in I, the quantity measured in whole cell experiments, could be caused by a change in any one (or more) of the parameters, N, p or i (see Fig. 1). In the two cases in which single-channel measurements have allowed this question to be investigated, changes in N (Shuster et al., 1985) and p (Ewald et al., 1985) have been observed. Here again it seems unlikely that any one mechanism operates in all cases, and it would not be surprising to find that phosphorylation of some other channel results in a change in i.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axons / physiology
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Heart / physiology
  • Ion Channels / physiology*
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism*
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Phosphorylation
  • Potassium / metabolism
  • Protein Kinases / metabolism
  • Receptors, Cholinergic / physiology
  • Synapses / physiology


  • Ion Channels
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Receptors, Cholinergic
  • Protein Kinases
  • Potassium
  • Calcium