S4 charges move close to residues in the pore domain during activation in a K channel

J Gen Physiol. 2001 Jul;118(1):1-10. doi: 10.1085/jgp.118.1.1.


Voltage-gated ion channels respond to changes in the transmembrane voltage by opening or closing their ion conducting pore. The positively charged fourth transmembrane segment (S4) has been identified as the main voltage sensor, but the mechanisms of coupling between the voltage sensor and the gates are still unknown. Obtaining information about the location and the exact motion of S4 is an important step toward an understanding of these coupling mechanisms. In previous studies we have shown that the extracellular end of S4 is located close to segment 5 (S5). The purpose of the present study is to estimate the location of S4 charges in both resting and activated states. We measured the modification rates by differently charged methanethiosulfonate regents of two residues in the extracellular end of S5 in the Shaker K channel (418C and 419C). When S4 moves to its activated state, the modification rate by the negatively charged sodium (2-sulfonatoethyl) methanethiosulfonate (MTSES(-)) increases significantly more than the modification rate by the positively charged [2-(trimethylammonium)ethyl] methanethiosulfonate, bromide (MTSET(+)). This indicates that the positive S4 charges are moving close to 418C and 419C in S5 during activation. Neutralization of the most external charge of S4 (R362), shows that R362 in its activated state electrostatically affects the environment at 418C by 19 mV. In contrast, R362 in its resting state has no effect on 418C. This suggests that, during activation of the channel, R362 moves from a position far away (>20 A) to a position close (8 A) to 418C. Despite its close approach to E418, a residue shown to be important in slow inactivation, R362 has no effect on slow inactivation or the recovery from slow inactivation. This refutes previous models for slow inactivation with an electrostatic S4-to-gate coupling. Instead, we propose a model with an allosteric mechanism for the S4-to-gate coupling.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cysteine
  • Hydrogen Bonding
  • Ion Channel Gating / physiology*
  • Oocytes
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques
  • Peptide Fragments
  • Point Mutation
  • Potassium Channels / physiology*
  • Static Electricity
  • Xenopus


  • Peptide Fragments
  • Potassium Channels
  • S4 peptide, Drosophila Shaker potassium channel
  • Cysteine