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J Gen Physiol. 2014 Feb;143(2):289-307. doi: 10.1085/jgp.201311097.

Aromatic-aromatic interactions between residues in KCa3.1 pore helix and S5 transmembrane segment control the channel gating process.

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Department of Physiology and Membrane Protein Research Group, 2 Centre de recherche du Centre hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal, and 3 Department of Medicine, Université de Montréal, Montréal, Quebec H3C 3J7, Canada.


The Ca(2+)-activated potassium channel KCa3.1 is emerging as a therapeutic target for a large variety of health disorders. One distinguishing feature of KCa3.1 is that the channel open probability at saturating Ca(2+) concentrations (Pomax) is low, typically 0.1-0.2 for KCa3.1 wild type. This observation argues for the binding of Ca(2+) to the calmodulin (CaM)-KCa3.1 complex, promoting the formation of a preopen closed-state configuration leading to channel opening. We have previously shown that the KCa3.1 active gate is most likely located at the level of the selectivity filter. As Ca(2+)-dependent gating of KCa3.1 originates from the binding of Ca(2+) to CaM in the C terminus, the hypothesis of a gate located at the level of the selectivity filter requires that the conformational change initiated in the C terminus be transmitted to the S5 and S6 transmembrane helices, with a resulting effect on the channel pore helix directly connected to the selectivity filter. A study was thus undertaken to determine to what extent the interactions between the channel pore helix with the S5 and S6 transmembrane segments contribute to KCa3.1 gating. Molecular dynamics simulations first revealed that the largest contact area between the pore helix and the S5 plus S6 transmembrane helices involves residue F248 at the C-terminal end of the pore helix. Unitary current recordings next confirmed that modulating aromatic-aromatic interactions between F248 and W216 of the S5 transmembrane helical segment and/or perturbing the interactions between F248 and residues in S6 surrounding the glycine hinge G274 cause important changes in Pomax. This work thus provides the first evidence for a key contribution of the pore helix in setting Pomax by stabilizing the channel closed configuration through aromatic-aromatic interactions involving F248 of the pore helix. We propose that the interface pore helix/S5 constitutes a promising site for designing KCa3.1 potentiators.

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