Control of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal stress axis activity by the intermediate conductance calcium-activated potassium channel, SK4

Zhi Liang, Lie Chen, Heather McClafferty, Robert Lukowski, Duncan MacGregor, Jonathan T King, Sandra Rizzi, Matthias Sausbier, David P McCobb, Hans-Guenther Knaus, Peter Ruth, Michael J Shipston

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The anterior pituitary corticotroph is a major control point for the regulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the neuroendocrine response to stress. Although corticotrophs are known to be electrically excitable, ion channels controlling the electrical properties of corticotrophs are poorly understood. Here, we exploited a lentiviral transduction system to allow the unequivocal identification of live murine corticotrophs in culture. We demonstrate that corticotrophs display highly heterogeneous spontaneous action-potential firing patterns and their resting membrane potential is modulated by a background sodium conductance. Physiological concentrations of corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH) and arginine vasopressin (AVP) cause a depolarization of corticotrophs, leading to a sustained increase in action potential firing. A major component of the outward potassium conductance was mediated via intermediate conductance calcium-activated (SK4) potassium channels. Inhibition of SK4 channels with TRAM-34 resulted in an increase in corticotroph excitability and exaggerated CRH/AVP-stimulated ACTH secretion in vitro. In accordance with a physiological role for SK4 channels in vivo, restraint stress-induced plasma ACTH and corticosterone concentrations were significantly enhanced in gene-targeted mice lacking SK4 channels (Kcnn4(-/-)). In addition, Kcnn4(-/-) mutant mice displayed enhanced hypothalamic c-fos and nur77 mRNA expression following restraint, suggesting increased neuronal activation. Thus, stress hyperresponsiveness observed in Kcnn4(-/-) mice results from enhanced secretagogue-induced ACTH output from anterior pituitary corticotrophs and may also involve increased hypothalamic drive, thereby suggesting an important role for SK4 channels in HPA axis function.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5965-86
Number of pages22
JournalThe Journal of Physiology
Issue number24
Publication statusPublished - 15 Dec 2011


  • Animals
  • Restraint, Physical
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Humans
  • Transduction, Genetic
  • Mice
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone
  • Mice, Knockout
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System
  • Lentivirus
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Intermediate-Conductance Calcium-Activated Potassium Channels
  • Membrane Potentials
  • Female
  • Stress, Physiological


Dive into the research topics of 'Control of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal stress axis activity by the intermediate conductance calcium-activated potassium channel, SK4'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this