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The ATP-sensitive K+-channel (KATP channel) plays a key role in insulin secretion from pancreatic beta cells. It is closed both by glucose metabolism and the sulfonylurea drugs that are used in the treatment of noninsulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, thereby initiating a membrane depolarization that activates voltage-dependent Ca2+ entry and insulin release. The beta cell KATP channel is a complex of two proteins: Kir6.2 and SUR1. The former is an ATP-sensitive K+-selective pore, whereas SUR1 is a channel regulator that endows Kir6.2 with sensitivity to sulfonylureas. A number of drugs containing an imidazoline moiety, such as phentolamine, also act as potent stimulators of insulin secretion, but their mechanism of action is unknown. We have used a truncated form of Kir6.2, which expresses independently of SUR1, to show that phentolamine does not inhibit KATP channels by interacting with SUR1. Instead, our results argue that phentolamine may interact directly with Kir6.2 to produce a voltage-independent reduction in channel activity. The single-channel conductance is unaffected. Although the ATP molecule also contains an imidazoline group, the site at which phentolamine blocks is not identical to the ATP-inhibitory site, because phentolamine block of an ATP-insensitive mutant (K185Q) is normal. KATP channels also are found in the heart where they are involved in the response to cardiac ischemia: they also are blocked by phentolamine. Our results suggest that this may be because Kir6.2, which is expressed in the heart, forms the pore of the cardiac KATP channel.

Original publication




Journal article


Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A

Publication Date





11716 - 11720


ATP-Binding Cassette Transporters, Animals, Cell Line, Female, Humans, Imidazoles, KATP Channels, Membrane Potentials, Mice, Oocytes, Phentolamine, Potassium Channel Blockers, Potassium Channels, Potassium Channels, Inwardly Rectifying, Recombinant Proteins, Sequence Deletion, Transfection, Xenopus