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Biochemistry. 2010 Nov 9;49(44):9480-7. doi: 10.1021/bi101235v.

Ion binding to KcsA: implications in ion selectivity and channel gating.

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Instituto de Biología Molecular y Celular, Universidad Miguel Hernández, Alicante, Spain.


Binding of K+ and Na+ to the potassium channel KcsA has been characterized from the stabilization observed in the heat-induced denaturation of the protein as the ion concentration is increased. KcsA thermal denaturation is known to include (i) dissociation of the homotetrameric channel into its constituent subunits and (ii) protein unfolding. The ion concentration-dependent changes in the thermal stability of the protein, evaluated as the Tm value for thermal-induced denaturation of the protein, may suggest the existence of both high- and low-affinity K+ binding sites of KcsA, which lend support to the tenet that channel gating may be governed by K+ concentration-dependent transitions between different affinity states of the channel selectivity filter. We also found that Na+ binds to KcsA with a KD similar to that estimated electrophysiologically from channel blockade. Therefore, our findings on ion binding to KcsA partly account for K+ over Na+ selectivity and Na+ blockade and argue against the strict “snug fit” hypothesis used initially to explain ion selectivity from the X-ray channel structure. Furthermore, the remarkable effects of increasing the ion concentration, K+ in particular, on the Tm of the denaturation process evidence that synergistic effects of the metal-mediated intersubunit interactions at the channel selectivity filter are a major contributor to the stability of the tetrameric protein. This observation substantiates the notion of a role for ions as structural “effectors” of ion channels.

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