Apoptosis of mouse neocortical neurons induced by serum deprivation or by staurosporine was associated with an early enhancement of delayed rectifier (IK) current and loss of total intracellular K+. This IK augmentation was not seen in neurons undergoing excitotoxic necrosis or in older neurons resistant to staurosporine-induced apoptosis. Attenuating outward K+ current with tetraethylammonium or elevated extracellular K+, but not blockers of Ca2+, Cl-, or other K+ channels, reduced apoptosis, even if associated increases in intracellular Ca2+ concentration were prevented. Furthermore, exposure to the K+ ionophore valinomycin or the K+-channel opener cromakalim induced apoptosis. Enhanced K+ efflux may mediate certain forms of neuronal apoptosis.
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