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J Gen Physiol. 2000 Sep;116(3):449-62.

Fundamental gating mechanism of nicotinic receptor channel revealed by mutation causing a congenital myasthenic syndrome.

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  • 1Receptor Biology Laboratory, Department of Physiology and Biophysics, Mayo Foundation, Rochester, Minnesota 55905, USA.


We describe the genetic and kinetic defects in a congenital myasthenic syndrome due to the mutation epsilonA411P in the amphipathic helix of the acetylcholine receptor (AChR) epsilon subunit. Myasthenic patients from three unrelated families are either homozygous for epsilonA411P or are heterozygous and harbor a null mutation in the second epsilon allele, indicating that epsilonA411P is recessive. We expressed human AChRs containing wild-type or A411P epsilon subunits in 293HEK cells, recorded single channel currents at high bandwidth, and determined microscopic rate constants for individual channels using hidden Markov modeling. For individual wild-type and mutant channels, each rate constant distributes as a Gaussian function, but the spread in the distributions for channel opening and closing rate constants is greatly expanded by epsilonA411P. Prolines engineered into positions flanking residue 411 of the epsilon subunit greatly increase the range of activation kinetics similar to epsilonA411P, whereas prolines engineered into positions equivalent to epsilonA411 in beta and delta subunits are without effect. Thus, the amphipathic helix of the epsilon subunit stabilizes the channel, minimizing the number and range of kinetic modes accessible to individual AChRs. The findings suggest that analogous stabilizing structures are present in other ion channels, and possibly allosteric proteins in general, and that they evolved to maintain uniformity of activation episodes. The findings further suggest that the fundamental gating mechanism of the AChR channel can be explained by a corrugated energy landscape superimposed on a steeply sloped energy well.

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