Ligand-gated ion channels: mechanisms underlying ion selectivity

Prog Biophys Mol Biol. 2004 Oct;86(2):161-204. doi: 10.1016/j.pbiomolbio.2003.09.002.


Anion/cation selectivity is a critical property of ion channels and underpins their physiological function. Recently, there have been numerous mutagenesis studies, which have mapped sites within the ion channel-forming segments of ligand-gated ion channels that are determinants of the ion selectivity. Site-directed mutations to specific amino acids within or flanking the M2 transmembrane segments of the anion-selective glycine, GABA(A) and GABA(C) receptors and the cation-selective nicotinic acetylcholine and serotonin (type 3) receptors have revealed discrete, equivalent regions within the ion channel that form the principal selectivity filter, leading to plausible molecular mechanisms and mathematical models to describe how ions preferentially permeate these channels. In particular, the dominant factor determining anion/cation selectivity seems to be the sign and exposure of charged amino acids lining the selectivity filter region of the open channel. In addition, the minimum pore diameter, which can be influenced by the presence of a local proline residue, also makes a contribution to such ion selectivity in LGICs with smaller diameters increasing anion/cation selectivity and larger ones decreasing it.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology
  • Humans
  • Ion Channel Gating / physiology*
  • Ion Channels / physiology*
  • Ions
  • Ligands
  • Models, Biological


  • Ion Channels
  • Ions
  • Ligands