Ca2+-activated K+ (KCa) channels are a unique family of ion channels because they are capable of directly communicating calcium signals to changes in cell membrane potential required for cellular processes including but not limited to cellular proliferation and migration. It is now possible to distinguish three families of KCa channels based on differences in their biophysical and pharmacological properties as well as genomic sequence. Using a combination of biochemical, molecular, and biophysical approaches, we show that human tumor cells of astrocytic origin, i.e. glioma cells, express transcripts for all three family members of KCa channels including BK, IK, and all three SK channel types (SK1, SK2, and SK3). The use of selective pharmacological inhibitors shows prominent expression of currents that are inhibited by the BK channel specific inhibitors iberiotoxin and paxilline. However, despite the presence of transcripts for IK and SK, neither clotrimazole, an inhibitor of IK channels, nor apamin, known to block most SK channels inhibited any current. The exclusive expression of functional BK channels was further substantiated by shRNA knockdown experiments, which selectively reduced iberiotoxin sensitive currents. Western blotting of patient biopsies with antibodies specific for all three KCa channel types further substantiated the exclusive expression of BK type KCa channels in vivo. This finding is in sharp contrast to other cancers that express primarily IK channels. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.