Human ether-a-go-go-related gene (hERG) encodes the pore-forming subunit of the rapidly activating delayed rectifier potassium current (IKr) potassium channel, which is important for cardiac repolarization. Impairment of hERG function is the primary cause of acquired long QT syndrome, which predisposes individuals to cardiac arrhythmias and sudden death. Patients with hypoxia due to conditions such as cardiac ischemia or obstructive sleep apnea display increased incidence of cardiac arrhythmias and sudden death. We sought to understand the mechanisms that underlie hypoxia-associated cardiac arrhythmias. Using cell biology and electrophysiologic techniques, we found that hypoxic culture of hERG-expressing human embryonic kidney (HEK) cells and neonatal rat cardiomyocytes reduced hERG current/IKr and mature ERG channel expression with a concomitant increase in calpain expression. Calpain was actively released into the extracellular milieu and degraded cell-surface hERG. In contrast to hERG, the ether-a-go-go (EAG) channel was not reduced by hypoxic culture. By making chimeric channels between hERG and EAG, we identified that hypoxia-induced calpain degraded hERG by targeting its extracellular S5-pore linker. The scorpion toxin BeKm-1, which is known to selectively bind to the S5-pore linker of hERG, prevented hypoxia-induced hERG reduction. Our data provide novel information about hypoxia-mediated hERG dysfunction and may have biological and clinical implications in hypoxia-associated diseases.-Lamothe, S. M., Song, W., Guo, J., Li, W., Yang, T., Baranchuk, A., Graham, C. H., Zhang, S. Hypoxia reduces mature hERG channels through calpain up-regulation.
Keywords: LQTS; heart; ion channel regulation; proteases.