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Biophys J. 1999 Nov; 77(5): 2517–2533.
PMCID: PMC1300527

Permeation of ions across the potassium channel: brownian dynamics studies


The physical mechanisms underlying the transport of ions across a model potassium channel are described. The shape of the model channel corresponds closely to that deduced from crystallography. From electrostatic calculations, we show that an ion permeating the channel, in the absence of any residual charges, encounters an insurmountable energy barrier arising from induced surface charges. Carbonyl groups along the selectivity filter, helix dipoles near the oval chamber, and mouth dipoles near the channel entrances together transform the energy barrier into a deep energy well. Two ions are attracted to this well, and their presence in the channel permits ions to diffuse across it under the influence of an electric field. Using Brownian dynamics simulations, we determine the magnitude of currents flowing across the channel under various conditions. The conductance increases with increasing dipole strength and reaches its maximum rapidly; a further increase in dipole strength causes a steady decrease in the channel conductance. The current also decreases systematically when the effective dielectric constant of the channel is lowered. The conductance with the optimal choice of dipoles reproduces the experimental value when the dielectric constant of the channel is assumed to be 60. The current-voltage relationship obtained with symmetrical solutions is linear when the applied potential is less than approximately 100 mV but deviates from Ohm's law at a higher applied potential. The reversal potentials obtained with asymmetrical solutions are in agreement with those predicted by the Nernst equation. The conductance exhibits the saturation property observed experimentally. We discuss the implications of these findings for the transport of ions across the potassium channels and membrane channels in general.

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Selected References

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