In humans, large conductance voltage- and calcium-dependent potassium (BK) channels are regulated allosterically by transmembrane voltage and intracellular Ca2+. Divalent cation binding sites reside within the gating ring formed by two Regulator of Conductance of Potassium (RCK) domains per subunit. Using patch-clamp fluorometry, we show that Ca2+ binding to the RCK1 domain triggers gating ring rearrangements that depend on transmembrane voltage. Because the gating ring is outside the electric field, this voltage sensitivity must originate from coupling to the voltage-dependent channel opening, the voltage sensor or both. Here we demonstrate that alterations of the voltage sensor, either by mutagenesis or regulation by auxiliary subunits, are paralleled by changes in the voltage dependence of the gating ring movements, whereas modifications of the relative open probability are not. These results strongly suggest that conformational changes of RCK1 domains are specifically coupled to the voltage sensor function during allosteric modulation of BK channels.
Keywords: BK; allosteric modulation; human; ion channels; molecular biophysics; structural biology; xenopus.