Gating of pentameric ligand-gated ion channels: structural insights and ambiguities

Structure. 2013 Aug 6;21(8):1271-83. doi: 10.1016/j.str.2013.06.019.


Pentameric ligand-gated ion channels (pLGICs) mediate fast synaptic communication by converting chemical signals into an electrical response. Recently solved agonist-bound and agonist-free structures greatly extend our understanding of these complex molecular machines. A key challenge to a full description of function, however, is the ability to unequivocally relate determined structures to the canonical resting, open, and desensitized states. Here, we review current understanding of pLGIC structure, with a focus on the conformational changes underlying channel gating. We compare available structural information and review the evidence supporting the assignment of each structure to a particular conformational state. We discuss multiple factors that may complicate the interpretation of crystal structures, highlighting the potential influence of lipids and detergents. We contend that further advances in the structural biology of pLGICs will require deeper insight into the nature of pLGIC-lipid interactions.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Ion Channel Gating*
  • Models, Molecular
  • Protein Interaction Domains and Motifs
  • Protein Structure, Quaternary
  • Protein Structure, Secondary
  • Protein Subunits / chemistry
  • Receptors, GABA / chemistry*
  • Receptors, Glycine / chemistry*
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / chemistry*
  • Receptors, Serotonin / chemistry*


  • Protein Subunits
  • Receptors, GABA
  • Receptors, Glycine
  • Receptors, Nicotinic
  • Receptors, Serotonin