The human ether a-go-go-related gene (herg) encodes a K+ currnt (I-HERG) that plays a fundamental role in heart excitability by regulating the action potential repolarization (I-Kr); mutations of this gene are responsible for the chromosome 7-linked long QT syndrome (LQT2). In this report, we show that in a variety (n = 17) of tumor cell lines of different species (human and murine) and distinct histogenesis (neuroblastoma, rhabdomyosarcoma, adenocarcinoma, lung microcytoma, pituitary tumors, insulinoma beta-cells, and monoblastic leukemia), a novel K+ inward-rectifier current (I-IR), which is biophysically and pharmacologically similar to I-HERG, can be recorded with the patch-clamp technique. Northern blot experiments with a human herg cDNA probe revealed that both in human and murine clones the very high expression of herg transcripts can be quantified in at least three clearly identifiable bands, suggesting an alternative splicing of HERG mRNA. Moreover, se cloned a cDNA encoding for I-IR the SH-SY5Y human neuroblastoma, The sequence of this cDNA result was practically identical to that already reported for herg, indicating a high conservation of this gene in tumors. Consistently, the expression of this clone in Xenopus oocytes showed that the encoded K+ channel had substantially all of the biophysical and pharmacological properties of the native I(IR)ibed for tumor cells. In addition, in the tumor clones studied, I-IR governs the resting potential, whereas it could not be detected either by the patch clamp or the Northern blot techniques in cells obtained from primary cell cultures of parental tissues (sensory neurons and myotubes), whose resting potential is controlled by the classical K+ anomalous rectifier current, This current substitution had a profound impact on the resting potential, which was markedly depolarized in tumors as compared with normal cells. These results suggest that I, is normally only expressed during the early stages of cell differentiation frozen by neoplastic transformation, playing an important pathophysiological role in the regulatory mechanisms of neoplastic cell survival, In fact, because of its biophysical features, I-IR,s keeping the resting potential within the depolarized values required for unlimited tumor growth, could also appear suitable to afford a selective advantage in an ischemic environment.
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