Computational methods and experimental data are used to provide structural models for NaChBac, the homo-tetrameric voltage-gated sodium channel from the bacterium Bacillus halodurans, with a closed and partially open pore domain. Molecular dynamic (MD) simulations on membrane-bound homo-tetrameric NaChBac structures, each comprising six helical transmembrane segments (labeled S1 through S6), reveal that the shape of the lumen, which is defined by the bundle of four alpha-helical S6 segments, is modulated by hinge bending motions around the S6 glycine residues. Mutation of these glycine residues into proline and alanine affects, respectively, the structure and conformational flexibility of the S6 bundle. In the closed channel conformation, a cluster of stacked phenylalanine residues from the four S6 helices hinders diffusion of water molecules and Na(+) ions. Activation of the voltage sensor domains causes destabilization of the aforementioned cluster of phenylalanines, leading to a more open structure. The conformational change involving the phenylalanine cluster promotes a kink in S6, suggesting that channel gating likely results from the combined action of hinge-bending motions of the S6 bundle and concerted reorientation of the aromatic phenylalanine side-chains.
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