Tryptophan scanning mutagenesis of the HERG K+ channel: the S4 domain is loosely packed and likely to be lipid exposed

J Physiol. 2005 Dec 1;569(Pt 2):367-79. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2005.097386. Epub 2005 Sep 15.


Inherited mutations or drug-induced block of voltage-gated ion channels, including the human ether-à-go-go-related gene (HERG) K+ channel, are significant causes of malignant arrhythmias and sudden death. The fourth transmembrane domain (S4) of these channels contains multiple positive charges that move across the membrane electric field in response to changes in transmembrane voltage. In HERG K+ channels, the movement of the S4 domain across the transmembrane electric field is particularly slow. To examine the basis of the slow movement of the HERG S4 domain and specifically to probe the relationship between the S4 domain with the lipid bilayer and rest of the channel protein, we individually mutated each of the S4 amino acids in HERG (L524-L539) to tryptophan, and characterized the activation and deactivation properties of the mutant channels in Xenopus oocytes, using two-electrode voltage-clamp methods. Tryptophan has a large bulky hydrophobic sidechain and so should be tolerated at positions that interact with lipid, but not at positions involved in close protein-protein interactions. Significantly, we found that all S4 tryptophan mutants were functional. These data indicate that the S4 domain is loosely packed within the rest of the voltage sensor domain and is likely to be lipid exposed. Further, we identified residues K525, R528 and K538 as being the most important for slow activation of the channels.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Biological Transport, Active
  • ERG1 Potassium Channel
  • Electrochemistry
  • Ether-A-Go-Go Potassium Channels / chemistry*
  • Ether-A-Go-Go Potassium Channels / genetics
  • Ether-A-Go-Go Potassium Channels / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lipids / analysis
  • Lipids / physiology*
  • Membrane Potentials / physiology
  • Models, Biological
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Mutagenesis, Site-Directed*
  • Mutation
  • Oocytes / cytology
  • Oocytes / physiology
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques
  • Protein Conformation
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • Tryptophan / genetics*
  • Tryptophan / physiology
  • Xenopus laevis


  • ERG1 Potassium Channel
  • Ether-A-Go-Go Potassium Channels
  • KCNH2 protein, human
  • Lipids
  • Tryptophan