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Methods Enzymol. 2010;485:437-57. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-381296-4.00024-5.

Toward the rational design of constitutively active KCa3.1 mutant channels.

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1
Department of Physiology, Groupe d'étude des prote´ines membranaires, Université de Montréal, Montreal, Canada.

Abstract

The Ca²+ activated potassium channel of intermediate conductance KCa3.1 is now emerging as a therapeutic target for a large variety of health disorders. KCa3.1 is a tetrameric membrane protein with each subunit formed of six transmembrane helices (S1-S6). Ca²+ sensitivity is conferred by the Ca²+ binding protein calmodulin (CaM), with the CaM C-lobe constitutively bound to an intracellular domain of the channel C-terminus, located proximal to the membrane and connected to the S6 transmembrane segment. Patch clamp single channel recordings have demonstrated that binding of Ca²+ to CaM allows the channel to transit dose dependently from a nonconducting to an ion-conducting configuration. Here we present a general strategy to generate KCa3.1 mutant channels that remain in an ion-conducting state in the absence of Ca²+. Our strategy is first based on the production of a 3D model of the channel pore region, followed by SCAM experiments to confirm that residues along each of the channel S6 transmembrane helix form the channel pore lumen as predicted. In a simple model, constitutive activity can be obtained by removing the steric hindrances inside the channel pore susceptible to prevent ion flow when the channel is in the closed configuration. Using charged MTS reagents and Ag+ ions as probes acting on Cys residues engineered in the pore lumen, we found that the S6 transmembrane helices of KCa3.1 cannot form a pore constriction tight enough to prevent ion flow for channels in the closed state. These observations ruled out experimental strategies where constitutive activity would be generated by producing a "leaky" closed channel. A more successful approach consisted however in perturbing the channel open/closed state equilibrium free energy. In particular, we found that substituting the hydrophobic residue V282 in S6 by hydrophilic amino acids could lock the channel in an open-like state, resulting in channels that were ion conducting in the absence of Ca²+.

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