Ion channels are transmembrane proteins that conduct specific ions across biological membranes. Ion channels are present at the onset of many cellular processes, and their malfunction triggers severe pathologies. Potassium channels (KChs) share a highly conserved signature that is necessary to conduct K⁺ through the pore region. To be functional, KChs require an exquisite regulation of their subcellular location and abundance. A wide repertoire of signatures facilitates the proper targeting of the channel, fine-tuning the balance that determines traffic and location. These signature motifs can be part of the secondary or tertiary structure of the protein and are spread throughout the entire sequence. Furthermore, the association of the pore-forming subunits with different ancillary proteins forms functional complexes. These partners can modulate traffic and activity by adding their own signatures as well as by exposing or masking the existing ones. Post-translational modifications (PTMs) add a further dimension to traffic regulation. Therefore, the fate of a KCh is not fully dependent on a gene sequence but on the balance of many other factors regulating traffic. In this review, we assemble recent evidence contributing to our understanding of the spatial expression of KChs in mammalian cells. We compile specific signatures, PTMs, and associations that govern the destination of a functional channel.
Keywords: auxiliary subunits; forward traffic; organelles; post-translational modification; potassium channels; retention; traffic.