Voltage-gated ion channels couple transmembrane potential changes to ion flow. Conformational changes in the voltage-sensing domain (VSD) of the channel are thought to be transmitted to the pore domain (PD) through an α-helical linker between them (S4-S5 linker). However, our recent work on channels disrupted in the S4-S5 linker has challenged this interpretation for the KCNH family. Furthermore, a recent single-particle cryo-electron microscopy structure of KV10.1 revealed that the S4-S5 linker is a short loop in this KCNH family member, confirming the need for an alternative gating model. Here we use "split" channels made by expression of VSD and PD as separate fragments to investigate the mechanism of gating in KV10.1. We find that disruption of the covalent connection within the S4 helix compromises the ability of channels to close at negative voltage, whereas disconnecting the S4-S5 linker from S5 slows down activation and deactivation kinetics. Surprisingly, voltage-clamp fluorometry and MTS accessibility assays show that the motion of the S4 voltage sensor is virtually unaffected when VSD and PD are not covalently bound. Finally, experiments using constitutively open PD mutants suggest that the presence of the VSD is structurally important for the conducting conformation of the pore. Collectively, our observations offer partial support to the gating model that assumes that an inward motion of the C-terminal S4 helix, rather than the S4-S5 linker, closes the channel gate, while also suggesting that control of the pore by the voltage sensor involves more than one mechanism.
© 2017 Tomczak et al.