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Nature. 2002 Aug 22;418(6900):876-80.

Mechanism of magnesium activation of calcium-activated potassium channels.

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Cardiac Bioelectricity Research and Training Center and Department of Biomedical Engineering, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio 44106-7207, USA.


Large-conductance (BK type) Ca(2+)-dependent K(+) channels are essential for modulating muscle contraction and neuronal activities such as synaptic transmission and hearing. BK channels are activated by membrane depolarization and intracellular Ca(2+) and Mg(2+) (refs 6-10). The energy provided by voltage, Ca(2+) and Mg(2+) binding are additive in activating the channel, suggesting that these signals open the activation gate through independent pathways. Here we report a molecular investigation of a Mg(2+)-dependent activation mechanism. Using a combined site-directed mutagenesis and structural analysis, we demonstrate that a structurally new Mg(2+)-binding site in the RCK/Rossman fold domain -- an intracellular structural motif that immediately follows the activation gate S6 helix -- is responsible for Mg(2+)-dependent activation. Mutations that impair or abolish Mg(2+) sensitivity do not affect Ca(2+) sensitivity, and vice versa. These results indicate distinct structural pathways for Mg(2+)- and Ca(2+)-dependent activation and suggest a possible mechanism for the coupling between Mg(2+) binding and channel opening.

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