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A critical role for the inward rectifying potassium channel Kir7.1 in oligodendrocytes, the myelinating cells of the CNS

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Inward rectifying potassium channels (Kir) are a large family of ion channels that play key roles in ion homeostasis in oligodendrocytes, the myelinating cells of the central nervous system (CNS). Prominent expression of Kir4.1 has been indicated in oligodendrocytes, but the extent of expression of other Kir subtypes is unclear. Here, we used qRT-PCR to determine expression of Kir channel transcripts in the mouse optic nerve, a white matter tract comprising myelinated axons and the glia that support them. A novel finding was the high relative expression of Kir7.1, comparable to that of Kir4.1, the main glial Kir channel. Significantly, Kir7.1 immunofluorescence labelling in optic nerve sections and in isolated cells was localised to oligodendrocyte somata. Kir7.1 are known as a K+ transporting channels and, using patch clamp electrophysiology and the Kir7.1 blocker VU590, we demonstrated Kir7.1 channels carry a significant proportion of the whole cell potassium conductance in oligodendrocytes isolated from mouse optic nerves. Notably, oligodendrocytes are highly susceptible to ischemia/hypoxia and this is due at least in part to disruption of ion homeostasis. A key finding of this study is that blockade of Kir7.1 with VU590 compromised oligodendrocyte cell integrity and compounds oligodendroglial loss in ischemia/hypoxia in the oxygen–glucose deprivation (OGD) model in isolated intact optic nerves. These data reveal Kir7.1 channels are molecularly and functionally expressed in oligodendrocytes and play an important role in determining oligodendrocyte survival and myelin integrity.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBrain Structure & Function
Early online date21 Feb 2020
Publication statusEarly online - 21 Feb 2020


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