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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Jan 10;109(2):E93-102. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1118434109. Epub 2011 Dec 12.

Structural basis for gating charge movement in the voltage sensor of a sodium channel.

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Department of Pharmacology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA.


Voltage-dependent gating of ion channels is essential for electrical signaling in excitable cells, but the structural basis for voltage sensor function is unknown. We constructed high-resolution structural models of resting, intermediate, and activated states of the voltage-sensing domain of the bacterial sodium channel NaChBac using the Rosetta modeling method, crystal structures of related channels, and experimental data showing state-dependent interactions between the gating charge-carrying arginines in the S4 segment and negatively charged residues in neighboring transmembrane segments. The resulting structural models illustrate a network of ionic and hydrogen-bonding interactions that are made sequentially by the gating charges as they move out under the influence of the electric field. The S4 segment slides 6-8 Å outward through a narrow groove formed by the S1, S2, and S3 segments, rotates ∼30°, and tilts sideways at a pivot point formed by a highly conserved hydrophobic region near the middle of the voltage sensor. The S4 segment has a 3(10)-helical conformation in the narrow inner gating pore, which allows linear movement of the gating charges across the inner one-half of the membrane. Conformational changes of the intracellular one-half of S4 during activation are rigidly coupled to lateral movement of the S4-S5 linker, which could induce movement of the S5 and S6 segments and open the intracellular gate of the pore. We confirmed the validity of these structural models by comparing with a high-resolution structure of a NaChBac homolog and showing predicted molecular interactions of hydrophobic residues in the S4 segment in disulfide-locking studies.

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