Opening paths to novel analgesics: the role of potassium channels in chronic pain

Trends Neurosci. 2014 Mar;37(3):146-58. doi: 10.1016/j.tins.2013.12.002. Epub 2014 Jan 21.


Chronic pain is associated with abnormal excitability of the somatosensory system and remains poorly treated in the clinic. Potassium (K⁺) channels are crucial determinants of neuronal activity throughout the nervous system. Opening of these channels facilitates a hyperpolarizing K⁺ efflux across the plasma membrane that counteracts inward ion conductance and therefore limits neuronal excitability. Accumulating research has highlighted a prominent involvement of K⁺ channels in nociceptive processing, particularly in determining peripheral hyperexcitability. We review salient findings from expression, pharmacological, and genetic studies that have untangled a hitherto undervalued contribution of K⁺ channels in maladaptive pain signaling. These emerging data provide a framework to explain enigmatic pain syndromes and to design novel pharmacological treatments for these debilitating states.

Keywords: dorsal root ganglia; pain; pharmacotherapy; potassium channel.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics / pharmacology*
  • Animals
  • Chronic Pain / drug therapy*
  • Chronic Pain / metabolism*
  • Chronic Pain / physiopathology
  • Drug Design
  • Humans
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy / methods*
  • Potassium Channels / metabolism*


  • Analgesics
  • Potassium Channels