Key points: We report that a sodium-activated potassium current, IKNa, has been inadvertently overlooked in both conduit and resistance arterial smooth muscle cells. IKNa is a major K+ resting conductance and is absent in cells of IKNa knockout (KO) mice. The phenotype of the IKNa KO is mild hypertension, although KO mice react more strongly than wild-type with raised blood pressure when challenged with vasoconstrictive agents. IKNa is negatively regulated by angiotensin II acting through Gαq protein-coupled receptors. In current clamp, KO arterial smooth muscle cells have easily evoked Ca2+-dependent action potentials. Abstract: Although several potassium currents have been reported to play a role in arterial smooth muscle (ASM), we find that one of the largest contributors to membrane conductance in both conduit and resistance ASMs has been inadvertently overlooked. In the present study, we show that IKNa, a sodium-activated potassium current, contributes a major portion of macroscopic outward current in a critical physiological voltage range that determines intrinsic cell excitability; IKNa is the largest contributor to ASM cell resting conductance. A genetic knockout (KO) mouse strain lacking KNa channels (KCNT1 and KCNT2) shows only a modest hypertensive phenotype. However, acute administration of vasoconstrictive agents such as angiotensin II (Ang II) and phenylephrine results in an abnormally large increase in blood pressure in the KO animals. In wild-type animals Ang II acting through Gαq protein-coupled receptors down-regulates IKNa, which increases the excitability of the ASMs. The complete genetic removal of IKNa in KO mice makes the mutant animal more vulnerable to vasoconstrictive agents, thus producing a paroxysmal-hypertensive phenotype. This may result from the lowering of cell resting K+ conductance allowing the cells to depolarize more readily to a variety of excitable stimuli. Thus, the sodium-activated potassium current may serve to moderate blood pressure in instances of heightened stress. IKNa may represent a new therapeutic target for hypertension and stroke.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5093-5108
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Physiology
Issue number20
StatePublished - Oct 1 2019


  • KNa1.1
  • KNa1.2
  • Slo1
  • Slo2.1
  • angiotensin II
  • persistent sodium current
  • potassium channel
  • vascular smooth muscle


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