Molecular architecture and divalent cation activation of TvoK, a prokaryotic potassium channel

J Biol Chem. 2007 Aug 17;282(33):24302-9. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M703650200. Epub 2007 Jun 22.


RCK (regulator of conductance of potassium) domains form a family of ligand-binding domains found in many prokaryotic K+ channels and transport proteins. Although many RCK domains contain an apparent nucleotide binding motif, some are known instead to bind Ca2+, which can then facilitate channel opening. Here we report on the molecular architecture and ligand activation properties of an RCK-containing potassium channel cloned from the prokaryote Thermoplasma volcanium. This channel, called TvoK, is of an apparent molecular mass and subunit composition that is consistent with the hetero-octameric configuration hypothesized for the related MthK (Methanobacterium thermoautotrophicum potassium) channel, in which four channel-tethered RCK domains coassemble with four soluble (untethered) RCK domains. The expression of soluble TvoK RCK subunits arises from an unconventional UUG start codon within the TvoK gene; silent mutagenesis of this alternative start codon abolishes expression of the soluble form of the TvoK RCK domain. Using single channel recording of purified, reconstituted TvoK, we found that the channel is activated by Ca2+ as well as Mg2+, Mn2+, and Ni2+. This non-selective divalent activation is in contrast with the activation properties of MthK, which is selectively activated by Ca2+. Transplantation of the TvoK RCK domain into MthK generates a channel that can be activated by Mg2+, illustrating that the Mg2+ binding site is likely contained within the RCK domain. We present a working hypothesis for TvoK gating in which the binding of either Ca2+ or Mg2+ can contribute approximately 5 kcal/mol toward stabilization of the open conformation of the channel.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Binding Sites
  • Cations, Divalent / chemistry*
  • Potassium Channels / chemistry*
  • Prokaryotic Cells
  • Protein Conformation
  • Protein Structure, Quaternary
  • Thermoplasma / chemistry*


  • Cations, Divalent
  • Potassium Channels