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Front Physiol. 2015 Feb 6;6:29. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2015.00029. eCollection 2015.

BK channels: multiple sensors, one activation gate.

Author information

1
Ion Channel Research Unit, Duke University Medical Center Durham, NC, USA ; Department of Biochemistry, Duke University Medical Center Durham, NC, USA.
2
Department of Biomedical Engineering, Washington University in Saint Louis St. Louis, MO, USA.
3
Department of Biomedical Engineering, Washington University in Saint Louis St. Louis, MO, USA ; Cardiac Bioelectricity and Arrhythmia Center, Washington University in Saint Louis St. Louis, MO, USA ; Center for The Investigation of Membrane Excitability Disorders, Washington University in Saint Louis St. Louis, MO, USA.

Abstract

Ion transport across cell membranes is essential to cell communication and signaling. Passive ion transport is mediated by ion channels, membrane proteins that create ion conducting pores across cell membrane to allow ion flux down electrochemical gradient. Under physiological conditions, majority of ion channel pores are not constitutively open. Instead, structural region(s) within these pores breaks the continuity of the aqueous ion pathway, thereby serves as activation gate(s) to control ions flow in and out. To achieve spatially and temporally regulated ion flux in cells, many ion channels have evolved sensors to detect various environmental stimuli or the metabolic states of the cell and trigger global conformational changes, thereby dynamically operate the opening and closing of their activation gate. The sensors of ion channels can be broadly categorized as chemical sensors and physical sensors to respond to chemical (such as neural transmitters, nucleotides and ions) and physical (such as voltage, mechanical force and temperature) signals, respectively. With the rapidly growing structural and functional information of different types of ion channels, it is now critical to understand how ion channel sensors dynamically control their gates at molecular and atomic level. The voltage and Ca(2+) activated BK channels, a K(+) channel with an electrical sensor and multiple chemical sensors, provide a unique model system for us to understand how physical and chemical energy synergistically operate its activation gate.

KEYWORDS:

BK channels; allosteric gating; calcium binding proteins; ion channel gating; ion permeation; magnesium binding; modular organization; voltage sensor domain

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