This is the second of the two White Papers from the fourth UC Davis Cardiovascular Symposium Systems Approach to Understanding Cardiac Excitation-Contraction Coupling and Arrhythmias (3-4 March 2016), a biennial event that brings together leading experts in different fields of cardiovascular research. The theme of the 2016 symposium was ‘K+ channels and regulation’, and the objectives of the conference were severalfold: (1) to identify current knowledge gaps; (2) to understand what may go wrong in the diseased heart and why; (3) to identify possible novel therapeutic targets; and (4) to further the development of systems biology approaches to decipher the molecular mechanisms and treatment of cardiac arrhythmias. The sessions of the Symposium focusing on the functional roles of the cardiac K+ channel in health and disease, as well as K+ channels as therapeutic targets, were contributed by Ye Chen-Izu, Gideon Koren, James Weiss, David Paterson, David Christini, Dobromir Dobrev, Jordi Heijman, Thomas O’Hara, Crystal Ripplinger, Zhilin Qu, Jamie Vandenberg, Colleen Clancy, Isabelle Deschenes, Leighton Izu, Tamas Banyasz, Andras Varro, Heike Wulff, Eleonora Grandi, Michael Sanguinetti, Donald Bers, Jeanne Nerbonne and Nipavan Chiamvimonvat as speakers and panel discussants. This article summarizes state-of-the-art knowledge and controversies on the functional roles of cardiac K+ channels in normal and diseased heart. We endeavour to integrate current knowledge at multiple scales, from the single cell to the whole organ levels, and from both experimental and computational studies. © 2016 The Physiological Society.