Voltage-activated potassium channels in mammalian neurons and their block by novel pharmacological agents

Gen Pharmacol. 1998 Jan;30(1):13-24. doi: 10.1016/s0306-3623(97)00034-7.


1. Electrophysiological studies have shown that a number of different types of potassium (K) channel currents exist in mammalian neurons. Among them are the voltage-gated K channel-currents which have been classified as fast-inactivating A-type currents (KA) and slowly inactivating delayed-rectifier type currents (KDR). 2. Two major molecular superfamilies of K channel have been identified; the KIR superfamily and the Shaker-related superfamily with a number of different pore-forming alpha-subunits in each superfamily. 3. Within the Shaker-related superfamily are the KV family, comprising of at least 18 different alpha-subunits that almost certainly underlie classically defined KA and KDR currents. However, the relationship between each of these cloned alpha-subunits and native voltage-gated K currents remains, for the most part, to be established. 4. Classical pharmacological blockers of voltage-gated K channels such as tetraethylammonium ions (TEA), 4-aminopyridine (4-AP), and certain toxins lack selectivity between different native channel currents and between different cloned K channel currents. 5. A number of other agents block neuronal voltage-gated K channels. All of these compounds are used primarily for other actions they possess. They include organic calcium (Ca) channel blockers, divalent and trivalent metal ions and certain calcium signalling agents such as caffeine. 6. A number of clinically active tricyclic compounds such as imipramine, amitriptyline, and chlorpromazine are also potent inhibitors of neuronal voltage-gated K channels. These compounds are weak bases and it appears that their uncharged form is required for activity. These compounds may provide a useful starting point for the rational design of novel selective K channel blocking agents.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • 4-Aminopyridine / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Calcium Channel Blockers / pharmacology
  • Electrophysiology
  • Humans
  • Neurons / drug effects*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Potassium Channel Blockers*
  • Potassium Channels / physiology*
  • Tetraethylammonium / pharmacology
  • Toxins, Biological / pharmacology


  • Calcium Channel Blockers
  • Potassium Channel Blockers
  • Potassium Channels
  • Toxins, Biological
  • Tetraethylammonium
  • 4-Aminopyridine