BK channels are essential for the regulation of several key physiological processes including smooth muscletone and neuronal excitability. They control the contraction of smooth muscle and are involved with the electrical tuning of hair cells in the cochlea. BK channels also contribute to the behavioral effects of ethanol in the worm C. elegans under high concentrations (> 100 mM, or approximately 0.50% BAC). It remains to be determined if BK channels contribute to intoxication in humans.
BK channels are a prime example of modular protein evolution. Each BK channel alpha subunit consists of (from N- to C-terminal):
A unique transmembrane domain (S0) that precedes the 6 transmembrane domains (S1-S6) conserved in all voltage-dependent K+ channels.
A voltage sensing domain (S1-S4).
A K+ channel pore domain (S5, selectivity filter, and S6).
A cytoplasmic C-terminal domain (CTD) consisting of a pair of RCK domains that assemble into an octameric gating ring on the intracellular side of the tetrameric channel. The CTD contains four primary binding sites for Ca2+, called "calcium bowls", encoded within the second RCK domain of each monomer.
Available X-ray structures:
3MT5 - Crystal Structure of the Human BK Gating Apparatus
3NAF - Structure of the Intracellular Gating Ring from the Human High-conductance Ca2+ gated K+ Channel (BK Channel)
3U6N - Open Structure of the BK channel Gating Ring
BK channels are pharmacological targets for the treatment of several medical disorders including stroke and overactive bladder. Although pharmaceutical companies have attempted to develop synthetic molecules targeting BK channels, their efforts have proved largely ineffective. For instance, BMS-204352 (MaxiPost), a molecule developed by Bristol-Myers Squibb, failed to improve clinical outcome in stroke patients compared to placebo. BK channels have also been found to be activated by exogenous pollutants and endogenous gazotransmitters carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulphide.
^Davies AG, Pierce-Shimomura JT, Kim H, VanHoven MK, Thiele TR, Bonci A, Bargmann CI, McIntire SL (December 2003). "A central role of the BK potassium channel in behavioral responses to ethanol in C. elegans". Cell115 (6): 655–66. doi:10.1016/S0092-8674(03)00979-6. PMID14675531.
^Jiang Y, Pico A, Cadene M, Chait BT, MacKinnon R (March 2001). "Structure of the RCK domain from the E. coli K+ channel and demonstration of its presence in the human BK channel". Neuron29 (3): 593–601. doi:10.1016/S0896-6273(01)00236-7. PMID11301020.
^Pico AR (2003). RCK domain model of calcium activation in BK channels (PhD thesis). New York: The Rockfeller University. hdl:10209/211.
^Dubuis E, Potier M, Wang R, Vandier C (February 2005). "Continuous inhalation of carbon monoxide attenuates hypoxic pulmonary hypertension development presumably through activation of BKCa channels". Cardiovasc. Res.65 (3): 751–61. doi:10.1016/j.cardiores.2004.11.007. PMID15664403.