A permeation theory for single-file ion channels: one- and two-step models

J Chem Phys. 2011 Apr 28;134(16):165102. doi: 10.1063/1.3580562.


How many steps are required to model permeation through ion channels? This question is investigated by comparing one- and two-step models of permeation with experiment and MD simulation for the first time. In recent MD simulations, the observed permeation mechanism was identified as resembling a Hodgkin and Keynes knock-on mechanism with one voltage-dependent rate-determining step [Jensen et al., PNAS 107, 5833 (2010)]. These previously published simulation data are fitted to a one-step knock-on model that successfully explains the highly non-Ohmic current-voltage curve observed in the simulation. However, these predictions (and the simulations upon which they are based) are not representative of real channel behavior, which is typically Ohmic at low voltages. A two-step association/dissociation (A/D) model is then compared with experiment for the first time. This two-parameter model is shown to be remarkably consistent with previously published permeation experiments through the MaxiK potassium channel over a wide range of concentrations and positive voltages. The A/D model also provides a first-order explanation of permeation through the Shaker potassium channel, but it does not explain the asymmetry observed experimentally. To address this, a new asymmetric variant of the A/D model is developed using the present theoretical framework. It includes a third parameter that represents the value of the "permeation coordinate" (fractional electric potential energy) corresponding to the triply occupied state n of the channel. This asymmetric A/D model is fitted to published permeation data through the Shaker potassium channel at physiological concentrations, and it successfully predicts qualitative changes in the negative current-voltage data (including a transition to super-Ohmic behavior) based solely on a fit to positive-voltage data (that appear linear). The A/D model appears to be qualitatively consistent with a large group of published MD simulations, but no quantitative comparison has yet been made. The A/D model makes a network of predictions for how the elementary steps and the channel occupancy vary with both concentration and voltage. In addition, the proposed theoretical framework suggests a new way of plotting the energetics of the simulated system using a one-dimensional permeation coordinate that uses electric potential energy as a metric for the net fractional progress through the permeation mechanism. This approach has the potential to provide a quantitative connection between atomistic simulations and permeation experiments for the first time.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Computer Simulation
  • Kinetics
  • Models, Chemical*
  • Molecular Dynamics Simulation
  • Permeability
  • Shaker Superfamily of Potassium Channels / chemistry*


  • Shaker Superfamily of Potassium Channels