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Biophys J. 2004 Aug;87(2):822-30.

Hill coefficient for estimating the magnitude of cooperativity in gating transitions of voltage-dependent ion channels.

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Department of Life Sciences and the Zlotowski Center for Neurosciences, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beer-Sheva, Israel.


A frequently used measure for the extent of cooperativity in ligand binding by an allosteric protein is the Hill coefficient, obtained by fitting data of initial reaction velocity (or fractional binding saturation) as a function of substrate concentration to the Hill equation. Here, it is demonstrated that the simple two-state Boltzmann equation that is widely used to fit voltage-activation data of voltage-dependent ion channels is analogous to the Hill equation. A general empiric definition for a Hill coefficient (n(H)) for channel gating transitions that is analogous to the logarithmic potential sensitivity function of Almers is derived. This definition provides a novel framework for interpreting the meaning of the Hill coefficient. In considering three particular and simple gating schemes for a voltage-activated cation channel, the relation of the Hill coefficient to the magnitude and nature of cooperative interactions along the reaction coordinate of channel gating is demonstrated. A possible functional explanation for the low value of the Hill coefficient for gating transitions of the Shaker voltage-activated K(+) channel is suggested. The analogy between the Hill coefficients for ligand binding and for channel gating transitions further points to a unified conceptual framework in analyzing enzymes and channels behavior.

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