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Biophys J. 2003 Jun;84(6):3703-16.

A physical model of potassium channel activation: from energy landscape to gating kinetics.

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Department of Physiology, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California at Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California 90095, USA.


We have developed a method for rapidly computing gating currents from a multiparticle ion channel model. Our approach is appropriate for energy landscapes that can be characterized by a network of well-defined activation pathways with barriers. To illustrate, we represented the gating apparatus of a channel subunit by an interacting pair of charged gating particles. Each particle underwent spatial diffusion along a bistable potential of mean force, with electrostatic forces coupling the two trajectories. After a step in membrane potential, relaxation of the smaller barrier charge led to a time-dependent reduction in the activation barrier of the principal gate charge. The resulting gating current exhibited a rising phase similar to that measured in voltage-dependent ion channels. Reduction of the two-dimensional diffusion landscape to a circular Markov model with four states accurately preserved the time course of gating currents on the slow timescale. A composite system containing four subunits leading to a concerted opening transition was used to fit a series of gating currents from the Shaker potassium channel. We end with a critique of the model with regard to current views on potassium channel structure.

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