Role of voltage-gated potassium channels in the fate determination of embryonic stem cells

Sze Ying Ng, Chi Hou Chin, Yuen Ting Lau, Jialie Luo, Chun Kit Wong, Zhaoxiang BIAN, Suk Ying Tsang*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

43 Citations (Scopus)


Embryonic stem cells (ESCs) possess two unique characteristics: self-renewal and pluripotency. In this study, roles of voltage-gated potassium channels (Kv) in maintaining mouse (m) ESC characteristics were investigated. Tetraethylammonium (TEA+), a Kv blocker, attenuated cell proliferation in a concentration-dependent manner. Possible reasons for this attenuation, including cytotoxicity, cell cycle arrest and differentiation, were examined. Blocking Kv did not change the viability of mESCs. Interestingly, Kv inhibition increased the proportion of cells in G0/G1 phase and decreased that in S phase. This change in cell cycle distribution can be attributed to cell cycle arrest or differentiation. Loss of pluripotency as determined at both molecular and functional levels was detected in mESCs with Kv blockade, indicating that Kv inhibition in undifferentiated mESCs directs cells to differentiate instead of to self-renew and progress through the cell cycle. Membrane potential measurement revealed that Kv blockade led to depolarization, consistent with the role of Kv as the key determinant of membrane potential. The present results suggest that membrane potential changes may act as a "switch" for ESCs to decide whether to proliferate or to differentiate: hyperpolarization at G1 phase would favor ESCs to enter S phase while depolarization would favor ESCs to differentiate. Consistent with this notion, S-phase-synchronized mESCs were found to be more hyperpolarized than G0/G1-phase-synchronized mESCs. Moreover, when mESCs differentiated, the differentiation derivatives depolarized at the initial stage of differentiation. This investigation is the first study to provide evidence that Kv and membrane potential affect the fate determination of ESCs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)165-177
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Cellular Physiology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2010

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Physiology
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology


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