Molecular architecture of the voltage-dependent Na channel: functional evidence for alpha helices in the pore

J Gen Physiol. 2001 Aug;118(2):171-82. doi: 10.1085/jgp.118.2.171.


The permeation pathway of the Na channel is formed by asymmetric loops (P segments) contributed by each of the four domains of the protein. In contrast to the analogous region of K channels, previously we (Yamagishi, T., M. Janecki, E. Marban, and G. Tomaselli. 1997. Biophys. J. 73:195-204) have shown that the P segments do not span the selectivity region, that is, they are accessible only from the extracellular surface. The portion of the P-segment NH(2)-terminal to the selectivity region is referred to as SS1. To explore further the topology and functional role of the SS1 region, 40 amino acids NH(2)-terminal to the selectivity ring (10 in each of the P segments) of the rat skeletal muscle Na channel were substituted by cysteine and expressed in tsA-201 cells. Selected mutants in each domain could be blocked with high affinity by externally applied Cd(2)+ and were resistant to tetrodotoxin as compared with the wild-type channel. None of the externally applied sulfhydryl-specific methanethiosulfonate reagents modified the current through any of the mutant channels. Both R395C and R750C altered ionic selectivity, producing significant increases in K(+) and NH(4)(+) currents. The pattern of side chain accessibility is consistent with a pore helix like that observed in the crystal structure of the bacterial K channel, KcsA. Structure prediction of the Na channel using the program PHDhtm suggests an alpha helix in the SS1 region of each domain channel. We conclude that each of the P segments undergoes a hairpin turn in the permeation pathway, such that amino acids on both sides of the putative selectivity filter line the outer mouth of the pore. Evolutionary conservation of the pore helix motif from bacterial K channels to mammalian Na channels identifies this structure as a critical feature in the architecture of ion selective pores.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence / genetics
  • Animals
  • Cadmium / pharmacology
  • Electrophysiology
  • Forecasting
  • Humans
  • Mesylates / pharmacology
  • Models, Molecular
  • Molecular Conformation
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Protein Structure, Secondary
  • Rats
  • Sodium Channels / drug effects
  • Sodium Channels / genetics*
  • Sodium Channels / physiology*
  • Tetrodotoxin / pharmacology


  • Mesylates
  • Sodium Channels
  • Cadmium
  • Tetrodotoxin
  • methanethiosulfonate