A Kv2 inhibitor combination reveals native neuronal conductances consistent with Kv2/KvS heteromers

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    Some delayed rectifier currents in neurons are formed by the combination of Kv2 and silent subunits, KvS. However, we lack the tools to identify these heteromeric channels in vivo. In this valuable study by the Sack group, the authors identify a pharmacological tool that can reveal the presence of KvS subunits as components of the delayed rectifier potassium currents in selected neurons. The experimental evidence presented in the manuscript is compelling and represents an advance that should be of interest to a wide community of neuroscientists and channel physiologists.

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Abstract

KvS proteins are voltage-gated potassium channel subunits that form functional channels when assembled into heterotetramers with Kv2.1 ( KCNB1 ) or Kv2.2 ( KCNB2 ). Mammals have 10 KvS subunits: Kv5.1 ( KCNF1 ), Kv6.1 ( KCNG1 ), Kv6.2 ( KCNG2 ), Kv6.3 ( KCNG3 ), Kv6.4 ( KCNG4 ), Kv8.1 ( KCNV1 ), Kv8.2 ( KCNV2 ), Kv9.1 ( KCNS1 ), Kv9.2 ( KCNS2 ), and Kv9.3 ( KCNS3 ). Electrically excitable cells broadly express channels containing Kv2 subunits and most neurons have substantial Kv2 conductance. However, whether KvS subunits contribute to these conductances has not been clear, leaving the physiological roles of KvS subunits poorly understood. Here, we identify that two potent Kv2 inhibitors, used in combination, can distinguish conductances of Kv2/KvS channels and Kv2-only channels. We find that Kv5, Kv6, Kv8, or Kv9-containing channels are resistant to the Kv2-selective pore-blocker RY785 yet remain sensitive to the Kv2-selective voltage sensor modulator guangxitoxin-1E (GxTX). Using these inhibitors in mouse superior cervical ganglion neurons, we find that little of the Kv2 conductance is carried by KvS-containing channels. In contrast, conductances consistent with KvS-containing channels predominate over Kv2-only channels in mouse and human dorsal root ganglion neurons. These results establish an approach to pharmacologically distinguish conductances of Kv2/KvS heteromers from Kv2-only channels, enabling investigation of the physiological roles of endogenous KvS subunits. These findings suggest that drugs targeting KvS subunits could modulate electrical activity of subsets of Kv2-expressing cell types.

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  1. eLife assessment

    Some delayed rectifier currents in neurons are formed by the combination of Kv2 and silent subunits, KvS. However, we lack the tools to identify these heteromeric channels in vivo. In this valuable study by the Sack group, the authors identify a pharmacological tool that can reveal the presence of KvS subunits as components of the delayed rectifier potassium currents in selected neurons. The experimental evidence presented in the manuscript is compelling and represents an advance that should be of interest to a wide community of neuroscientists and channel physiologists.

  2. Reviewer #1 (Public Review):

    Summary:

    Kv2 subfamily potassium channels contribute to delayed rectifier currents in virtually all mammalian neurons and are encoded by two distinct types of subunits: Kv2 alpha subunits that have the capacity to form homomeric channels (Kv2.1 and Kv2.2), and KvS or silent subunits (Kv5,6,8.9) that can assemble with Kv2.1 or Kv2.2 to form heteromeric channels with novel biophysical properties. Many neurons express both types of subunits and therefore have the capacity to make both homomeric Kv2 channels and heteromeric Kv2/KvS channels. Determining the contributions of each of these channel types to native potassium currents has been very difficult because the differences in biophysical properties are modest and there are no Kv2/KvS-specific pharmacological tools. The authors set out to design a strategy to separate Kv2 and Kv2/KvS currents in native neurons based on their observation that Kv2/KvS channels have little sensitivity to the Kv2 pore blocker RY785 but are blocked by the Kv2 VSD blocker GxTx. They clearly demonstrate that Kv2/KvS currents can be differentiated from Kv2 currents in native neurons using a two-step strategy to first selectively block Kv2 with RY785, and then block both with GxTx. The manuscript is beautifully written; takes a very complex problem and strategy and breaks it down so both channel experts and the broad neuroscience community can understand it.

    Strengths:

    The compounds the authors use are highly selective and unlikely to have significant confounding cross-reactivity to other channel types. The authors provide strong evidence that all Kv2/KvS channels are resistant to RY785. This is a strength of the strategy - it can likely identify Kv2/KvS channels containing any of the 10 mammalian KvS subunits and thus be used as a general reagent on all types of neurons. The limitation then of course is that it can't differentiate the subtypes, but at this stage, the field really just needs to know how much Kv2/KvS channels contribute to native currents and this strategy provides a sound way to do so.

    Weaknesses:

    The authors are very clear about the limitations of their strategy, the most important of which is that they can't differentiate different subunit combinations of Kv2/KvS heteromers. This study is meant to be a start to understanding the roles of Kv2/KvS channels in vivo. As such, this is a minor weakness, far outweighed by the potential of the strategy to move the field through a roadblock that has existed since its inception.

    The study accomplishes exactly what it set out to do: provide a means to determine the relative contributions of homomeric Kv2 and heteromeric Kv2/KvS channels to native delayed rectifier K+ currents in neurons. It also does a fabulous job laying out the case for why this is important to do.

  3. Reviewer #2 (Public Review):

    Summary:

    Silent Kv subunits and the channels containing these Kv subunits (Kv2/KvS heteromers) are in the process of discovery. It is believed that these channels fine-tune the voltage-activated K+ currents that repolarize the membrane potential during action potentials, with a direct effect on cell excitability, mostly by determining action potentials firing frequency.

    Strengths:

    What makes silent Kv subunits even more important is that, by being expressed in specific tissues and cell types, different silent Kv subunits may have the ability to fine-tune the delayed rectifying voltage-activated K+ currents that are one of the currents that crucially determine cell excitability in these cells. The present manuscript introduces a pharmacological method to dissect the voltage-activated K+ currents mediated by Kv2/KvS heteromers as a means of starting to unveil their importance, together with Kv2-only channels, to the cells where they are expressed.

    Weaknesses:

    While the method is effective in quantifying these currents in any isolated cell under an electric voltage clamp, it is ineffective as a modulating maneuver to perhaps address these currents in an in vivo experimental setting. This is an important point but is not a claim made by the authors. There are other caveats with the methods and data:

    (i) The need for a 'cocktail' of blockers to supposedly isolate Kv2 homomers and Kv2/KvS heteromers' currents from others may introduce errors in the quantification Kv2/KvS heteromers-mediated K+ currents and that is due to possible blockers off targets.

    (ii) During the electrophysiology experiments, the authors use a holding potential that is not as negative as it is needed for the recording of the full population of the Kv2/KvS channels. Depolarized holding potentials lead to a certain level of inactivation of the channels, that vary according to the KvS involved/present in that specific population of channels. As a reminder, some KvS promote inactivation and others prevent inactivation. Therefore, the data must be interpreted as such.

    (iii) The analysis of conductance activation by using tail currents is only accurate when dealing with non-inactivating conductances. Also, in dealing with a heterogenous population of Kv2/KvS heteromers, heterogenous K+ conductance deactivation kinetics is a must. Indeed, different KvS may significantly relate to different deactivation kinetics as well.

    (iv) Silent Kv subunits may be retained in the ER, in heterologous systems like CHO cells. This aspect may subestimate their expression in these systems. Nevertheless, the authors show similar data in CHO cells and in primary neurons.

    (v) The hallmark of silent Kv subunits is their effect on the time inactivation of K+ currents. As such, data should be shown throughout, preferably, from this perspective, but it was only done so in Figure 4G.

    (vi) Functional characterization of currents only, as suggested by the authors as a bona fide of Kv2 and Kv2/KvS currents, should not be solely trusted to classify the currents and their channel mediators.