G protein-gated inwardly rectifying K(+) (GIRK/K(ir)3) channels are critical to brain function. They hyperpolarize neurons in response to activation of different G protein-coupled receptors, reducing cell excitability. Molecular cloning has revealed four distinct mammalian genes (GIRK1-4), which, with the exception of GIRK4, are broadly expressed in the central nervous system (CNS) and have been implicated in a variety of neurological disorders. Although the molecular structure and composition of GIRK channels are key determinants of their biophysical properties, their cellular and subcellular localization patterns and densities on the neuronal surface are just as important to nerve function. Current data obtained with high-resolution quantitative localization techniques reveal complex, subcellular compartment-specific distribution patterns of GIRK channel subunits. Recent efforts have focused on determining the associated proteins that form macromolecular complexes with GIRK channels. Demonstration of the precise subcellular compartmentalization of GIRK channels and their associated proteins represents a crucial step in understanding the contribution of these channels to specific aspects of neuronal function under both physiological and pathological conditions. Here, we present an overview of studies aimed at determining the cellular and subcellular localization of GIRK channel subunits in mammalian brain neurons and discuss implications for neuronal physiology.
Keywords: Electron microscopy; G protein; GABA(B) receptor; GIRK channel; GPCR; High-resolution techniques; Immunohistochemistry; Potassium channel; Subcellular localization; Synapses.
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