Hyperpolarization of vascular muscle in response to activation of potassium channels is a major mechanism of vasodilatation. In cerebral blood vessels, four different potassium channels have been described: ATP-sensitive potassium channels, calcium-activated potassium channels, delayed rectifier potassium channels, and inward rectifier potassium channels. Summary of ReviewActivation of ATP-sensitive and calcium-activated potassium channels appears to play a major role in relaxation of cerebral arteries and arterioles in response to diverse stimuli, including receptor-mediated agonists, intracellular second messengers, and hypoxia. Both calcium-activated and delayed rectifier potassium channels may contribute to a negative feedback system that regulates tone in large cerebral arteries. The influence of ATP-sensitive and calcium-activated potassium channels is altered in disease states such as hypertension, diabetes, and atherosclerosis. ConclusionsActivation of potassium channels is a major mechanism of cerebral vasodilatation. Alteration of activity of potassium channels and impairment of vasodilatation may contribute to the development or maintenance of cerebral ischemia or vasospasm.
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