Conformational changes in the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor during gating and desensitization

Biochemistry. 2010 Jan 12;49(1):156-65. doi: 10.1021/bi901550p.


The nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) is a member of the important Cys loop ligand-gated ion channel superfamily that modulates neuronal excitability. After they respond to their agonists, their actions are terminated either by removal of ligand or by fast and slow desensitization, processes that play an important role in modulating the duration of conducting states and hence of integrated neuronal behavior. We monitored structural changes occurring during fast and slow desensitization in the transmembrane domain of the Torpedo nAChR using time-resolved photolabeling with the hydrophobic probe 3-(trifluoromethyl)-3-(m-iodophenyl)diazirine (TID). After channel opening, TID photolabels a residue on the delta-subunit's M2-M3 loop and a cluster of four residues on deltaM1 and deltaM2, defining an open state pocket [Arevalo, E., et al. (2005) J. Biol. Chem. 280, 13631-13640]. We now find that photolabeling of this pocket persists during the transition to the fast desensitized state, the extent of photoincorporation decreasing only with the transition to the slow desensitized state. In contrast, the extent of photoincorporation in the channel lumen at the conserved 9'-leucines on the second transmembrane helix (M2-9') decreased successively during the resting to open and open to fast desensitized state transitions, implying that the local conformation is different in each state, a conclusion consistent with the hypothesis that there are separate gates for channel opening and desensitization. Thus, although during fast desensitization there is a conformation change in the channel lumen at the level of M2-9', there is none in the regions of the delta-subunit's M2-M3 loop and the interior of its M1-M4 helix bundle until slow desensitization occurs.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Binding Sites
  • Ion Channel Gating*
  • Models, Molecular
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Protein Conformation
  • Protein Subunits / chemistry*
  • Protein Subunits / metabolism
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / chemistry*
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / metabolism
  • Substrate Specificity
  • Torpedo / metabolism


  • Protein Subunits
  • Receptors, Nicotinic