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Inward rectifier (Kir) potassium channels contribute to the control of electrical activity in excitable tissues and their activity is modulated by many biochemical factors, including protons. Heteromeric Kir4.1-Kir5.1 channels are highly pH sensitive within the physiological range of pH changes and are strongly expressed by the peripheral chemosensors as well as in the brainstem pH-sensitive areas which mediate respiratory responses to changes in blood and brain levels of P(CO(2))/[H(+)]. In the present study, Kir5.1 knockout mice (Kir5.1(-/-)) were used to determine the role of these channels in the chemosensory control of breathing. We found that Kir5.1(-/-) mice presented with persistent metabolic acidosis and a clear respiratory phenotype. Despite metabolic acidosis, ventilation at rest and in hyperoxic hypercapnia were similar in wild-type and Kir5.1(-/-) mice. Ventilatory responses to hypoxia and normoxic hypercapnia were significantly reduced in Kir5.1(-/-) mice; however, carotid body chemoafferent responses to hypoxia and CO(2) were not affected. In the in situ brainstem-spinal cord preparations with denervated peripheral chemoreceptors, resting phrenic nerve activity and phrenic nerve responses to respiratory acidosis or isohydric hypercapnia were also similar in Kir5.1(-/-) and wild-type mice. In in situ preparations of Kir5.1(-/-) mice with intact peripheral chemoreceptors, application of CN(-) resulted in a significantly reduced phrenic nerve response, suggesting that the relay of peripheral chemosensory information to the CNS is compromised. We suggest that this compensatory modulation of the peripheral chemosensory inputs develops in Kir5.1(-/-) mice in order to counteract the effect of continuing metabolic acidosis on the activity of the peripheral chemoreceptors. These results therefore suggest that despite their intrinsic pH sensitivity, Kir4.1-Kir5.1 channels are dispensable for functional central and peripheral respiratory chemosensitivity.

Original publication




Journal article


Exp Physiol

Publication Date





451 - 459


Acidosis, Animals, Bicarbonates, Brain Stem, Carbon Dioxide, Carotid Body, Hydrogen-Ion Concentration, Hypercapnia, Hypoxia, Mice, Mice, Inbred C57BL, Mice, Knockout, Phrenic Nerve, Potassium Channels, Inwardly Rectifying, Respiratory System, Spinal Cord