Glia in the central nervous system (CNS) express diverse inward rectifying potassium channels (Kir). The major function of Kir is in establishing the high potassium (K+) selectivity of the glial cell membrane and strongly negative resting membrane potential (RMP), which are characteristic physiological properties of glia. The classical property of Kir is that K+ flows inwards when the RMP is negative to the equilibrium potential for K+ (Ek), but at more positive potentials outward currents are inhibited. This provides the driving force for glial uptake of K+ released during neuronal activity, by the processes of “K+ spatial buffering” and “K+ siphoning”, considered a key function of astrocytes, the main glial cell type in the CNS. Glia express multiple Kir channel subtypes, which are likely to have distinct functional roles related to their differences in conductance, and sensitivity to intracellular and extracellular factors, including pH, ATP, G-proteins, neurotransmitters and hormones. A feature of CNS glia is their specific expression of the Kir4.1 subtype, which is a major K+ conductance in glial cell membranes and has a key role in setting the glial RMP. It is proposed that Kir4.1 have a primary function in K+ regulation, both as homomeric channels and as heteromeric channels by co-assembley with Kir5.1 and probably Kir2.0 subtypes. Significantly, Kir4.1 are also expressed by oligodendrocytes, the myelin-forming cells of the CNS, and the genetic ablation of Kir4.1 are also expressed by Oligodendrocytes, the myelin-forming cells of the CNS, and the genetic ablation of Kir4.1 results in severe hypomyelination. Hence, Kir, and in particular Kir4.1, are key regulators of glial functions, which in turn determine neuronal excitability and axonal conduction.
|Number of pages
|Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine
|Published - 2006