Kv7-specific activators hyperpolarize resting membrane potential and modulate human iPSC-derived sensory neuron excitability
Chronic pain is highly prevalent and remains a significant unmet global medical need. As part of a search for modulatory genes that confer pain resilience, we have studied two family cohorts where one individual reported much less pain than other family members that share the same pathogenic gain-of-function Nav1.7 mutation that confers hyperexcitability on pain-signaling dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons. In each of these kindreds, the pain-resilient individual carried a gain-of-function variant in Kv7.2 or Kv7.3, two potassium channels that stabilize membrane potential and reduce excitability. Our observation in this molecular genetic study that these gain-of-function Kv7.2 and 7.3 variants reduce DRG neuron excitability suggests that agents that activate or open Kv7 channels should attenuate sensory neuron firing. In the present study, we assess the effects on sensory neuron excitability of three Kv7 modulators—retigabine (Kv7.2 thru Kv7.5 activator), ICA-110381 (Kv7.2/Kv7.3 specific activator), and as a comparator ML277 (Kv7.1 specific activator)—in a “human-pain-in-a-dish” model (human iPSC-derived sensory neurons, iPSC-SN). Multi-electrode-array (MEA) recordings demonstrated inhibition of firing with retigabine and ICA-110381 (but not with ML277), with the concentration-response curve indicating that retigabine can achieve a 50% reduction of firing with sub-micromolar concentrations. Current-clamp recording demonstrated that retigabine hyperpolarized iPSC-SN resting potential and increased threshold. This study implicates Kv7.2/Kv7.3 channels as effective modulators of sensory neuron excitability, and suggest that compounds that specifically target Kv7.2/Kv7.3 currents in sensory neurons, including human sensory neurons, might provide an effective approach toward pain relief.