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School of Medicine


Physiology, Pharmacology & Neuroscience



Unlike other breast cancer subtypes that may be treated with a variety of hormonal or targeted therapies, there is a need to identify new, effective targets for triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC). It has recently been recognized that membrane potential is depolarized in breast cancer cells. The primary objective of the study is to explore whether hyperpolarization induced by opening potassium channels may provide a new strategy for treatment of TNBC.


Breast cancer datasets in cBioPortal for cancer genomics was used to search for ion channel gene expression. Immunoblots and immunohistochemistry were used for protein expression in culture cells and in the patient tissues. Electrophysiological patch clamp techniques were used to study properties of BK channels in culture cells. Flow cytometry and fluorescence microscope were used for cell viability and cell cycle studies. Ultrasound imaging was used to study xenograft in female NSG mice.


In large datasets of breast cancer patients, we identified a gene, KCNMA1 (encoding for a voltage- and calcium-dependent large-conductance potassium channel, called BK channel), overexpressed in triple-negative breast cancer patients. Although overexpressed, 99% of channels are closed in TNBC cells. Opening BK channels hyperpolarized membrane potential, which induced cell cycle arrest in G2 phase and apoptosis via caspase-3 activation. In a TNBC cell induced xenograft model, treatment with a BK channel opener significantly slowed tumor growth without cardiac toxicity.


Our results support the idea that hyperpolarization induced by opening BK channel in TNBC cells can become a new strategy for development of a targeted therapy in TNBC.

Source Citation

Sizemore, G., McLaughlin, S., Newman, M. et al. Opening large-conductance potassium channels selectively induced cell death of triple-negative breast cancer. BMC Cancer 20, 595 (2020).


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