Inward rectifier potassium (Kir2.1) channels as end-stage boosters of endothelium-dependent vasodilators

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Endothelium-dependent vasodilators, such as acetylcholine, increase intracellular Ca2+ through activation of transient receptor potential vanilloid 4 (TRPV4) channels in the plasma membrane and inositol trisphosphate receptors in the endoplasmic reticulum, leading to stimulation of Ca2+-sensitive intermediate and small conductance K+ (IK and SK, respectively) channels. Although strong inward rectifier K+ (Kir) channels have been reported in the native endothelial cells (ECs) their role in EC-dependent vasodilatation is not clear. Here, we test the idea that Kir channels boost the EC-dependent vasodilatation of resistance-sized arteries. We show that ECs, but not smooth muscle cells, of small mesenteric arteries have Kir currents, which are substantially reduced in EC-specific Kir2.1 knockdown (EC-Kir2.1−/−) mice. Elevation of extracellular K+ to 14 mm caused vasodilatation of pressurized arteries, which was prevented by endothelial denudation and Kir channel inhibitors (Ba2+, ML-133) or in the arteries from EC-Kir2.1−/− mice. Potassium-induced dilatations were unaffected by inhibitors of TRPV4, IK and SK channels. The Kir channel blocker, Ba2+, did not affect currents through TRPV4, IK or SK channels. Endothelial cell-dependent vasodilatations in response to activation of muscarinic receptors, TRPV4 channels or IK/SK channels were reduced, but not eliminated, by Kir channel inhibitors or EC-Kir2.1−/−. In angiotensin II-induced hypertension, the Kir channel function was not altered, although the endothelium-dependent vasodilatation was severely impaired. Our results support the concept that EC Kir2 channels boost vasodilatory signals that are generated by Ca2+-dependent activation of IK and SK channels.

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