The ATP release channel Pannexin1 (Panx1) is self-regulated, i.e. the permeant ATP inhibits the channel from the extracellular space. The affinity of the ATP binding site is lower than that of the purinergic P2X7 receptor allowing a transient activation of Panx1 by ATP through P2X 7R. Here we show that the inhibition of Panx1 by ATP is abrogated by increased extracellular potassium ion concentration ([K+] o) in a dose-dependent manner. Since increased [K+] o is also a stimulus for Panx1 channels, it can be expected that a combination of ATP and increased [K+]o would be deadly for cells. Indeed, astrocytes did not survive exposure to these combined stimuli. The death mechanism, although involving P2X7R, does not appear to strictly follow a pyroptotic pathway. Instead, caspase-3 was activated, a process inhibited by Panx1 inhibitors. These data suggest that Panx1 plays an early role in the cell death signaling pathway involving ATP and K+ ions. Additionally, Panx1 may play a second role once cells are committed to apoptosis, since Panx1 is also a substrate of caspase-3.
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