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J Neurosci. 2001 Jan 1;21(1):67-74.

Structure and dynamics of the GABA binding pocket: A narrowing cleft that constricts during activation.

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  • 1Department of Physiology, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, USA.


Photo-affinity labeling and mutagenesis studies have identified several amino acids that may contribute to the ligand binding domains of ligand-gated ion channels. These types of studies, however, only generate a one-dimensional, static description of binding site structure. In this study, we used the substituted cysteine accessibility method not only to identify binding pocket residues but also to elicit information about binding site dynamics and structure. Residues surrounding the putative loop C ligand binding domain of the GABA(A) receptor (beta(2)V199 to beta(2)S209) were individually mutated to cysteine, and the mutant subunits were coexpressed with wild-type alpha(1) subunits in Xenopus oocytes. N-biotinylaminoethyl methanethiosulfonate (MTSEA-biotin) reacts with cysteines introduced at positions G203, S204, Y205, P206, R207, and S209. This accessibility pattern is not consistent with either an alpha-helix or beta-strand. Instead, G203-S209 seems to form a water-accessible extended coil, whereas V199-T202 appears to buried in the protein or membrane. Coapplication of either GABA or the competitive antagonist SR-95531 significantly slows MTSEA-biotin modification of cysteines introduced at positions S204, Y205, R207, and S209, demonstrating that these residues line and face into the GABA binding pocket. MTSEA-biotin reaction rates reveal a steep accessibility gradient from G203-S209 and suggests that the binding pocket is a deep narrowing cleft. Pentobarbital activation of the receptor significantly slows MTSEA-biotin modification of cysteines at S204, R207, and S209, suggesting that the binding site may constrict during gating.

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