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 exogenous doses (> 100 mM)  that have been shown to correspond to biologically relevant internal ethanol concentrations. 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 (Regulator of Conductance of K+) 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, a molecule developed by Bristol-Myers Squibb, failed to improve clinical outcome in stroke patients compared to placebo. However, BKCa channels are reduced in patients suffering from the Fragile X syndrome and the agonist, BMS-204352, corrects some of the deficits observed in Fmr1knockout mice, a model of Fragile X syndrome.
BK channels have also been found to be activated by exogenous pollutants and endogenous gasotransmitters carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulphide.
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