Essential hypertension involves a gradual and sustained increase in total peripheral resistance, reflecting an increased vascular tone. This change associates with a depolarization of vascular myocytes, and relies on a change in the expression profile of voltage-dependent ion channels (mainly Ca2+ and K+ channels) that promotes arterial contraction. However, changes in expression and/or modulation of voltage-dependent K+ channels (Kv channels) are poorly defined, due to their large molecular diversity and their vascular bed-specific expression. Here we endeavor to characterize the molecular and functional expression of Kv channels in vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs) and their regulation in essential hypertension, by using VSMCs from resistance (mesenteric) or conduit (aortic) arteries obtained from a hypertensive inbred mice strain, BPH, and the corresponding normotensive strain, BPN. Real-time PCR reveals a differential distribution of Kv channel subunits in the different vascular beds as well as arterial bed-specific changes under hypertension. In mesenteric arteries, the most conspicuous change was the de novo expression of Kv6.3 (Kcng3) mRNA in hypertensive animals. The functional relevance of this change was studied by using patch-clamp techniques. VSMCs from BPH arteries were more depolarized than BPN ones, and showed significantly larger capacitance values. Moreover, Kv current density in BPH VSMCs is decreased mainly due to the diminished contribution of the Kv2 component. The kinetic and pharmacological profile of Kv2 currents suggests that the expression of Kv6.3 could contribute to the natural development of hypertension
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