The mechanism of mechanosensitive gating of ion channels underlies many physiological processes, including the sensations of touch, hearing, and pain perception. TREK-2 is the best-studied mechanosensitive member of the two-pore domain potassium channel family. Apart from pressure sensing, it responds to a diverse range of stimuli. Two states, termed "up" and "down," are known from x-ray structural crystallographic studies and have been suggested to differ in conductance. However, the structural details of the gating behavior are largely unknown. In this work, we used molecular dynamics simulations to study the conductance of the states as well as the effect of mechanical membrane stretch on the channel. We find that the down state is less conductive than the up state. The introduction of membrane stretch in the simulations shifts the state of the channel toward an up configuration, independent of the starting configuration, and also increases its conductance. The correlation of the selectivity filter state and the conductance supports a model in which the selectivity filter gates by a carbonyl flip. This gate is stabilized by the pore helices. We suggest a modulation of these helices by an interface to the transmembrane helices. Membrane pressure changes the conformation of the transmembrane helices directly and consequently also influences the channel conductance.
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