Co-expression of human Kir3 subunits can yield channels with different functional properties.
To date, no comprehensive study has been done on all combinations of the human homologues of the Kir3.0 channel family, and the human homologue of Kir3.3 has not yet been identified. To obtain support for the contention that most of the functional data on non-human Kir3.0 channels can be extrapolated to human channels, we have cloned the human homologues of the Kir3.0 family, including the yet unidentified human Kir3.3, and the human Kir4.1. The expression pattern of these channels in various human brain areas and peripheral tissues, analysed by Northern blot analysis, allows for the existence of various homomeric and heteromeric forms of human Kir3.0 channels. Expression studies of all possible combinations in Xenopus oocytes indicated that in homomeric Kir3.2c and heteromeric Kir3.1/3.2c channels mediate, in our studies, inward currents with largest amplitude of any other Kir3.0 channel combinations, followed by heteromeric Kir3.1/3.4 and homomeric Kir4.1 channels. Channel combinations which include Kir3.3 are detrimental to the formation of functional channels. The co-expression experiments with different Kir channel subunits indicate the selective formation of certain channel combinations, suggesting that channel specificity is not solely dependent on spatial and temporal regulation of Kir subunit expression.