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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Feb 26;110(9):3369-74. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1218203110. Epub 2013 Feb 11.

Voltage sensor ring in a native structure of a membrane-embedded potassium channel.

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Department of Cell Biology, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, TX 75390, USA.


Voltage-gated ion channels support electrochemical activity in cells and are largely responsible for information flow throughout the nervous systems. The voltage sensor domains in these channels sense changes in transmembrane potential and control ion flux across membranes. The X-ray structures of a few voltage-gated ion channels in detergents have been determined and have revealed clear structural variations among their respective voltage sensor domains. More recent studies demonstrated that lipids around a voltage-gated channel could directly alter its conformational state in membrane. Because of these disparities, the structural basis for voltage sensing in native membranes remains elusive. Here, through electron-crystallographic analysis of membrane-embedded proteins, we present the detailed view of a voltage-gated potassium channel in its inactivated state. Contrary to all known structures of voltage-gated ion channels in detergents, our data revealed a unique conformation in which the four voltage sensor domains of a voltage-gated potassium channel from Aeropyrum pernix (KvAP) form a ring structure that completely surrounds the pore domain of the channel. Such a structure is named the voltage sensor ring. Our biochemical and electrophysiological studies support that the voltage sensor ring represents a physiological conformation. These data together suggest that lipids exert strong effects on the channel structure and that these effects may be changed upon membrane disruption. Our results have wide implications for lipid-protein interactions in general and for the mechanism of voltage sensing in particular.

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