Potassium buffering in the central nervous system

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653 Scopus citations


Rapid changes in extracellular K+ concentration ([K +]o) in the mammalian CNS are counteracted by simple passive diffusion as well as by cellular mechanisms of K+ clearance. Buffering of [K+]o can occur via glial or neuronal uptake of K+ ions through transporters or K+-selective channels. The best studied mechanism for [K+]o buffering in the brain is called K+ spatial buffering, wherein the glial syncytium disperses local extracellular K+ increases by transferring K + ions from sites of elevated [K+]o to those with lower [K+]o. In recent years, K+ spatial buffering has been implicated or directly demonstrated by a variety of experimental approaches including electrophysiological and optical methods. A specialized form of spatial buffering named K+ siphoning takes place in the vertebrate retina, where glial Müller cells express inwardly rectifying K+ channels (Kir channels) positioned in the membrane domains near to the vitreous humor and blood vessels. This highly compartmentalized distribution of Kir channels in retinal glia directs K + ions from the synaptic layers to the vitreous humor and blood vessels. Here, we review the principal mechanisms of [K+]o buffering in the CNS and recent molecular studies on the structure and functions of glial Kir channels. We also discuss intriguing new data that suggest a close physical and functional relationship between Kir and water channels in glial cells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1043-1054
Number of pages12
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2004


  • Müller cells
  • aquaporin
  • astrocytes
  • glia
  • potassium channel
  • retina


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