The pH sensor of the plant K+-uptake channel KAT1 is built from a sensory cloud rather than from single key amino acids

Biochem J. 2012 Feb 15;442(1):57-63. doi: 10.1042/BJ20111498.


The uptake of potassium ions (K+) accompanied by an acidification of the apoplasm is a prerequisite for stomatal opening. The acidification (approximately 2-2.5 pH units) is perceived by voltage-gated inward potassium channels (K(in)) that then can open their pores with lower energy cost. The sensory units for extracellular pH in stomatal K(in) channels are proposed to be histidines exposed to the apoplasm. However, in the Arabidopsis thaliana stomatal K(in) channel KAT1, mutations in the unique histidine exposed to the solvent (His267) do not affect the pH dependency. We demonstrate in the present study that His267 of the KAT1 channel cannot sense pH changes since the neighbouring residue Phe266 shifts its pKa to undetectable values through a cation-π interaction. Instead, we show that Glu240 placed in the extracellular loop between transmembrane segments S5 and S6 is involved in the extracellular acid activation mechanism. Based on structural models we propose that this region may serve as a molecular link between the pH- and the voltage-sensor. Like Glu240, several other titratable residues could contribute to the pH-sensor of KAT1, interact with each other and even connect such residues far away from the voltage-sensor with the gating machinery of the channel.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Arabidopsis / physiology
  • Arabidopsis Proteins / genetics
  • Arabidopsis Proteins / metabolism*
  • Glutamic Acid / chemistry
  • Histidine / chemistry
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration*
  • Plant Stomata / physiology*
  • Potassium Channels, Inwardly Rectifying / genetics
  • Potassium Channels, Inwardly Rectifying / metabolism*
  • Thermodynamics


  • Arabidopsis Proteins
  • KAT1 protein, Arabidopsis
  • Potassium Channels, Inwardly Rectifying
  • Glutamic Acid
  • Histidine