Many studies have reported changes in potassium channel expression in many cancers and the involvement of these channels in various stages of cancer progression. By contrast, data concerning SKCa channels (small conductance calcium-activated potassium channels) have only recently become available. This review aims i) to present the structure and physiology of SKCa channels, ii) to provide an overview of published data concerning the SKCa proteins produced in tumor cells, and, whenever possible, the biological function assigned to them and iii) to review previous and novel modulators of SKCa channels. SKCa channels are activated by low concentrations of intracellular calcium and consist of homo- or heteromeric assemblies of α-subunits named SK1, SK2 and SK3. SK2-3 channels are expressed in tumors and have been assigned a biological function in cancer cells: the enhancement of cell proliferation and cell migration by hijacking the functions of SK2 and SK3 channels, respectively. Two major classes of SKCa modulators have been described: toxins (apamin) and small synthetic molecules. Most SKCa blockers are pore blockers, but some modify the calcium sensitivity of SKCa channels without interacting with the apamin binding site. In this review, we present edelfosine and ohmline as atypical anticancer agents and novel SK3 inhibitors. Edelfosine and ohmline are synthetic alkyl-lipids with structures different from all previously described SKCa modulators. They should pave the way for the development of a new class of migration-targeted anticancer agents. We believe that such blockers have potential for use in the prevention or treatment of metastasis.
Keywords: Amphiphiles, BKCa channel, breast cancer, colon cancer, edelfosine, IKCa channel, melanoma, SK1, SK2, SK3, SKCa channel, SKCa activators, SKCa inhibitors
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