Ca2+/calcineurin regulation of cloned vascular KATP channels: crosstalk with the protein kinase A pathway


Professor Lucie H Clapp, BHF Laboratories, Department of Medicine, UCL, Rayne Building, 5 University Street, London WC1E 6JF, UK. E-mail:


Background and purpose:  Vascular ATP-sensitive potassium (KATP) channels are activated by cyclic AMP elevating vasodilators through protein kinase A (PKA). Direct channel phosphorylation is a critical mechanism, though the phosphatase opposing these effects is unknown. Previously, we reported that calcineurin, a Ca2+-dependent phosphatase, inhibits KATP channels, though neither the site nor the calcineurin isoform involved is established. Given that the type-2 regulatory (RII) subunit of PKA is a substrate for calcineurin we considered whether calcineurin regulates channel activity through interacting with PKA.

Experimental approach:  Whole-cell recordings were made in HEK-293 cells stably expressing the vascular KATP channel (KIR6.1/SUR2B). The effect of intracellular Ca2+ and modulators of the calcineurin and PKA pathway on glibenclamide-sensitive currents were examined.

Key results:  Constitutively active calcineurin Aα but not Aβ significantly attenuated KATP currents activated by low intracellular Ca2+, whereas calcineurin inhibitors had the opposite effect. PKA inhibitors reduced basal KATP currents and responses to calcineurin inhibitors, consistent with the notion that some calcineurin action involves inhibition of PKA. However, raising intracellular Ca2+ (equivalent to increasing calcineurin activity), almost completely inhibited KATP channel activation induced by the catalytic subunit of PKA, whose enzymatic activity is independent of the RII subunit. In vitro phosphorylation experiments showed calcineurin could directly dephosphorylate a site in Kir6.1 that was previously phosphorylated by PKA.

Conclusions and implications:  Calcineurin Aα regulates KIR6.1/SUR2B by inhibiting PKA-dependent phosphorylation of the channel as well as PKA itself. Such a mechanism is likely to directly oppose the action of vasodilators on the KATP channel.

British Journal of Pharmacology (2009) 157, 554–564; doi:10.1111/j.1476-5381.2009.00221.x; published online 7 May 2009

This article is commented on by Tammaro, pp. 551–553 of this issue and is part of a themed section on Endothelium in Pharmacology. For a list of all articles in this section see the end of this paper, or visit: