• apoptosis;
  • cytochrome c;
  • glutamate;
  • hippocampus;
  • hypoxia;
  • pre-conditioning


We measured and manipulated intracellular potassium (K+) fluxes in cultured hippocampal neurons in an effort to understand the involvement of K+ in neuronal death under conditions of ischemia and exposure to apoptotic stimuli. Measurements of the intracellular K+ concentration using the fluorescent probe 1,3-benzenedicarboxylic acid, 4,4′-[1,4,10,13-tetraoxa-7,16-diazacyclooctadecane-7,16-diylbis(5-methoxy-6,2-benzofurandiyl)]bis-, tetrakis [(acetyloxy) methyl] ester (PBFI) revealed that exposure of neurons to cyanide (chemical hypoxia), glutamate (excitotoxic insult) or staurosporine (apoptotic stimulus) results in efflux of K+ and cell death. Treatment of neurons with 5-hydroxydecanoate (5HD), an inhibitor of mitochondrial K+ channels, reduced K+ fluxes in neurons exposed to each insult and increased the resistance of the cells to death. K+ efflux was attenuated, levels of oxyradicals were decreased, mitochondrial membrane potential was stabilized and release of cytochrome c from mitochondria was attenuated in neurons treated with 5HD. K+ was rapidly released into the cytosol from mitochondria when neurons were exposed to the K+ channel opener, diazoxide, or to the mitochondrial uncoupler, carbonyl cyanide 4(trifluoromethoxy)phenylhydrazone (FCCP), demonstrating that the intramitochondrial K+ concentration is greater than the cytosolic K+ concentration. The release of K+ from mitochondria was followed by efflux through plasma membrane K+ channels. In vivo studies showed that 5HD reduces ischemic brain damage without affecting cerebral blood flow in a mouse model of focal ischemic stroke. These findings suggest that intracellular K+ fluxes play a key role in modulating neuronal oxyradical production and cell survival under ischemic conditions, and that agents that modify K+ fluxes may have therapeutic benefit in stroke and related neurodegenerative conditions.