Computed pore potentials of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor

Biophys J. 2006 Aug 15;91(4):1325-35. doi: 10.1529/biophysj.106.081455. Epub 2006 Jun 2.


Electrostatic surface potentials in the vestibule of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) were computed from structural models using the University of Houston Brownian Dynamics program to determine their effect on ion conduction and ionic selectivity. To further determine whether computed potentials accurately reflect the electrostatic environment of the channel, the potentials were used to predict the rate constants for diffusion-enhanced fluorescence energy transfer; the calculated energy transfer rates are directly comparable with those determined experimentally (see companion article by Meltzer et al. in this issue). To include any effects on the local potentials by the bound acceptor fluorophore crystal violet, its binding site was first localized within the pore by fluorescence energy transfer measurements from dansyl-C6-choline bound to the agonist sites and also by simulations of binding using Autodock. To compare the computed potentials with those determined experimentally, we used the predicted energy transfer rates from Tb3+ chelates of varying charge to calculate an expected potential using the Boltzmann relationship. This expected potential (from -20 to -40 mV) overestimates the values determined experimentally (from -10 to -25 mV) by two- to fourfold at similar conditions of ionic strength. Although the results indicate a basic discrepancy between experimental and computed surface potentials, both methods demonstrate that the vestibular potential has a relatively small effect on conduction and selectivity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Cell Membrane / chemistry*
  • Computer Simulation
  • Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer
  • Ion Channel Gating*
  • Membrane Potentials*
  • Models, Chemical*
  • Models, Molecular*
  • Porosity
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / chemistry*
  • Static Electricity


  • Receptors, Nicotinic