Research ArticleCancer

The conformational state of hERG1 channels determines integrin association, downstream signaling, and cancer progression

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Sci. Signal.  04 Apr 2017:
Vol. 10, Issue 473, eaaf3236
DOI: 10.1126/scisignal.aaf3236

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Channeling proliferation or metastasis

The hERG1 potassium channel is best known for its role in repolarizing excitable cells such as cardiomyocytes, but the abundance of this cardiac channel is aberrantly high in cancer cells. Becchetti et al. investigated the interaction of hERG1 with the β1 integrin subunit, a member of a family of adhesion molecules. Forms of hERG1 with mutations that fixed the channel in the open conformation more weakly interacted with β1 integrin in cells and enhanced proliferation when expressed in breast cancer cells injected into mice. However, K+ flow through open hERG1 channels enhanced the activation of FAK downstream of β1 integrin and promoted metastasis in breast cancer cells injected into mice. Thus, whether hERG1 promotes proliferation or metastasis in cancer cells depends on the conformation of the channel and suggests that hERG1 inhibitors that are tailored to the channel conformation could be used to prevent different aspects of tumor progression.