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J Biol Chem. 2011 Apr 29;286(17):14753-61. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M110.191734. Epub 2011 Mar 2.

Base of the thumb domain modulates epithelial sodium channel gating.

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Department of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15261, USA.


The activity of the epithelial sodium channel (ENaC) is modulated by multiple external factors, including proteases, cations, anions and shear stress. The resolved crystal structure of acid-sensing ion channel 1 (ASIC1), a structurally related ion channel, and mutagenesis studies suggest that the large extracellular region is involved in recognizing external signals that regulate channel gating. The thumb domain in the extracellular region of ASIC1 has a cylinder-like structure with a loop at its base that is in proximity to the tract connecting the extracellular region to the transmembrane domains. This loop has been proposed to have a role in transmitting proton-induced conformational changes within the extracellular region to the gate. We examined whether loops at the base of the thumb domains within ENaC subunits have a similar role in transmitting conformational changes induced by external Na(+) and shear stress. Mutations at selected sites within this loop in each of the subunits altered channel responses to both external Na(+) and shear stress. The most robust changes were observed at the site adjacent to a conserved Tyr residue. In the context of channels that have a low open probability due to retention of an inhibitory tract, mutations in the loop activated channels in a subunit-specific manner. Our data suggest that this loop has a role in modulating channel gating in response to external stimuli, and are consistent with the hypothesis that external signals trigger movements within the extracellular regions of ENaC subunits that are transmitted to the channel gate.

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