Single-channel kinetics has proven a powerful tool to reveal information about the gating mechanisms that control the opening and closing of ion channels. This introductory review focuses on the gating of large conductance Ca(2+)- and voltage-activated K(+) (BK or Slo1) channels at the single-channel level. It starts with single-channel current records and progresses to presentation and analysis of single-channel data and the development of gating mechanisms in terms of discrete state Markov (DSM) models. The DSM models are formulated in terms of the tetrameric modular structure of BK channels, consisting of a central transmembrane pore-gate domain (PGD) attached to four surrounding transmembrane voltage sensing domains (VSD) and a large intracellular cytosolic domain (CTD), also referred to as the gating ring. The modular structure and data analysis shows that the Ca(2+) and voltage dependent gating considered separately can each be approximated by 10-state two-tiered models with five closed states on the upper tier and five open states on the lower tier. The modular structure and joint Ca(2+) and voltage dependent gating are consistent with a 50 state two-tiered model with 25 closed states on the upper tier and 25 open states on the lower tier. Adding an additional tier of brief closed (flicker states) to the 10-state or 50-state models improved the description of the gating. For fixed experimental conditions a channel would gate in only a subset of the potential number of states. The detected number of states and the correlations between adjacent interval durations are consistent with the tiered models. The examined models can account for the single-channel kinetics and the bursting behavior of gating. Ca(2+) and voltage activate BK channels by predominantly increasing the effective opening rate of the channel with a smaller decrease in the effective closing rate. Ca(2+) and depolarization thus activate by mainly destabilizing the closed states.
Keywords: 50-state model; Markov models; channel gating; dependency.