Physiological Reviews

Ancillary Subunits Associated With Voltage-Dependent K+ Channels

Olaf Pongs, Jürgen R. Schwarz


Since the first discovery of Kvβ-subunits more than 15 years ago, many more ancillary Kv channel subunits were characterized, for example, KChIPs, KCNEs, and BKβ-subunits. The ancillary subunits are often integral parts of native Kv channels, which, therefore, are mostly multiprotein complexes composed of voltage-sensing and pore-forming Kvα-subunits and of ancillary or β-subunits. Apparently, Kv channels need the ancillary subunits to fulfill their many different cell physiological roles. This is reflected by the large structural diversity observed with ancillary subunit structures. They range from proteins with transmembrane segments and extracellular domains to purely cytoplasmic proteins. Ancillary subunits modulate Kv channel gating but can also have a great impact on channel assembly, on channel trafficking to and from the cellular surface, and on targeting Kv channels to different cellular compartments. The importance of the role of accessory subunits is further emphasized by the number of mutations that are associated in both humans and animals with diseases like hypertension, epilepsy, arrhythmogenesis, periodic paralysis, and hypothyroidism. Interestingly, several ancillary subunits have in vitro enzymatic activity; for example, Kvβ-subunits are oxidoreductases, or modulate enzymatic activity, i.e., KChIP3 modulates presenilin activity. Thus different modes of β-subunit association and of functional impact on Kv channels can be delineated, making it difficult to extract common principles underlying Kvα- and β-subunit interactions. We critically review present knowledge on the physiological role of ancillary Kv channel subunits and their effects on Kv channel properties.

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