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ACS Omega. 2016 Dec 13;1(6):1205-1219. doi: 10.1021/acsomega.6b00202. eCollection 2016 Dec 31.

Structural Heterogeneity of CNGA1 Channels Revealed by Electrophysiology and Single-Molecule Force Spectroscopy.

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International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA), Neuroscience Area, via Bonomea 265, 34136 Trieste, Italy.


The determination at atomic resolution of the three-dimensional molecular structure of membrane proteins such as receptors and several ion channels has been a major breakthrough in structural biology. The molecular structure of several members of the superfamily of voltage-gated ionic channels such as K+ and Na+ is now available. However, despite several attempts, the molecular structure at atomic resolution of the full cyclic nucleotide-gated (CNG) ion channel, although a member of the same superfamily of voltage-gated ion channels, has not been obtained yet, neither by X-ray crystallography nor by electron cryomicroscopy (cryo-EM). It is possible that CNG channels have a high structural heterogeneity, making difficult crystallization and single-particle analysis. To address this issue, we have combined single-molecule force spectroscopy (SMFS) and electrophysiological experiments to characterize the structural heterogeneity of CNGA1 channels expressed in Xenopus laevis oocytes. The unfolding of the cytoplasmic domain had force peaks, occurring with a probability from 0.2 to 0.96. Force peaks during the unfolding of the transmembrane domain had a probability close to 1, but the distribution of the increase in contour length between two successive force peaks had multiple maxima differing by tens of nanometers. Concomitant electrophysiological experiments showed that the rundown in mutant channels S399C is highly variable and that the effect of thiol reagents when specific residues were mutated was consistent with a dynamic structural heterogeneity. These results show that CNGA1 channels have a wide spectrum of native conformations that are difficult to detect with X-ray crystallography and cryo-EM.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare no competing financial interest.

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