Proton transfer unlocks inactivation in cyclic nucleotide-gated A1 channels

J Physiol. 2015 Feb 15;593(4):857-70. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2014.284216. Epub 2015 Jan 7.


Key points: Desensitization and inactivation provide a form of short-term memory controlling the firing patterns of excitable cells and adaptation in sensory systems. Unlike many of their cousin K(+) channels, cyclic nucleotide-gated (CNG) channels are thought not to desensitize or inactivate. Here we report that CNG channels do inactivate and that inactivation is controlled by extracellular protons. Titration of a glutamate residue within the selectivity filter destabilizes the pore architecture, which collapses towards a non-conductive, inactivated state in a process reminiscent of the usual C-type inactivation observed in many K(+) channels. These results indicate that inactivation in CNG channels represents a regulatory mechanism that has been neglected thus far, with possible implications in several physiological processes ranging from signal transduction to growth cone navigation.

Abstract: Ion channels control ionic fluxes across biological membranes by residing in any of three functionally distinct states: deactivated (closed), activated (open) or inactivated (closed). Unlike many of their cousin K(+) channels, cyclic nucleotide-gated (CNG) channels do not desensitize or inactivate. Using patch recording techniques, we show that when extracellular pH (pHo ) is decreased from 7.4 to 6 or lower, wild-type CNGA1 channels inactivate in a voltage-dependent manner. pHo titration experiments show that at pHo < 7 the I-V relationships are outwardly rectifying and that inactivation is coupled to current rectification. Single-channel recordings indicate that a fast mechanism of proton blockage underlines current rectification while inactivation arises from conformational changes downstream from protonation. Furthermore, mutagenesis and ionic substitution experiments highlight the role of the selectivity filter in current decline, suggesting analogies with the C-type inactivation observed in K(+) channels. Analysis with Markovian models indicates that the non-independent binding of two protons within the transmembrane electrical field explains both the voltage-dependent blockage and the inactivation. Low pH, by inhibiting the CNGA1 channels in a state-dependent manner, may represent an unrecognized endogenous signal regulating CNG physiological functions in diverse tissues.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Cyclic Nucleotide-Gated Cation Channels / genetics
  • Cyclic Nucleotide-Gated Cation Channels / physiology*
  • DNA, Complementary / genetics
  • Female
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Mutation
  • Oocytes / physiology
  • Protons*
  • Transfection
  • Xenopus laevis


  • Cyclic Nucleotide-Gated Cation Channels
  • DNA, Complementary
  • Protons