Endogenous polyamines, in particular spermine, have been found to cause block and modulation of a number of types of ion channel. Intracellular spermine is responsible for intrinsic gating and rectification of strong inward rectifier K+ channels by directly plugging the ion channel pore. These K+ channels control the resting membrane potential in both excitable and non-excitable cells, and control the excitability threshold in neurons and muscle cells. Intracellular spermine causes inward rectification at some subtypes of Ca2+-permeable glutamate receptors in the central nervous system, again by plugging the receptor channel pore, and spermine can even permeate the ion channel of these receptors. Extracellular spermine has multiple effects at the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) subtype of glutamate receptor, including stimulation that increases the size of NMDA receptor currents, and voltage-dependent block. A number of polyamine-conjugated arthropod toxins and synthetic polyamine analogues are potent antagonists of glutamate receptors, and represent new tools with which to study these receptors. Interactions of polyamines with other types of cation channels have been reported. This area of research represents a new biology and a new pharmacology of polyamines.

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