Voltage-dependent KCNH family potassium channel functionality can be reconstructed using non-covalently linked voltage-sensing domain (VSD) and pore modules (split channels). However, the necessity of a covalent continuity for channel function has not been evaluated at other points within the two functionally independent channel modules. We find here that by cutting Kv11.1 (hERG, KCNH2) channels at the different loops linking the transmembrane spans of the channel core, not only channels split at the S4-S5 linker level, but also those split at the intracellular S2-S3 and the extracellular S3-S4 loops, yield fully functional channel proteins. Our data indicate that albeit less markedly, channels split after residue 482 in the S2-S3 linker resemble the uncoupled gating phenotype of those split at the C-terminal end of the VSD S4 transmembrane segment. Channels split after residues 514 and 518 in the S3-S4 linker show gating characteristics similar to those of the continuous wild-type channel. However, breaking the covalent link at this level strongly accelerates the voltage-dependent accessibility of a membrane impermeable methanethiosulfonate reagent to an engineered cysteine at the N-terminal region of the S4 transmembrane helix. Thus, besides that of the S4-S5 linker, structural integrity of the intracellular S2-S3 linker seems to constitute an important factor for proper transduction of VSD rearrangements to opening and closing the cytoplasmic gate. Furthermore, our data suggest that the short and probably rigid characteristics of the extracellular S3-S4 linker are not an essential component of the Kv11.1 voltage sensing machinery.
Keywords: Gating; Potassium channel; Split channel; Voltage sensor; hERG.