New Structures and Gating of Voltage-Dependent Potassium (Kv) Channels and Their Relatives: A Multi-Domain and Dynamic Question

Int J Mol Sci. 2019 Jan 10;20(2):248. doi: 10.3390/ijms20020248.


Voltage-dependent potassium channels (Kv channels) are crucial regulators of cell excitability that participate in a range of physiological and pathophysiological processes. These channels are molecular machines that display a mechanism (known as gating) for opening and closing a gate located in a pore domain (PD). In Kv channels, this mechanism is triggered and controlled by changes in the magnitude of the transmembrane voltage sensed by a voltage-sensing domain (VSD). In this review, we consider several aspects of the VSD⁻PD coupling in Kv channels, and in some relatives, that share a common general structure characterized by a single square-shaped ion conduction pore in the center, surrounded by four VSDs located at the periphery. We compile some recent advances in the knowledge of their architecture, based in cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) data for high-resolution determination of their structure, plus some new functional data obtained with channel variants in which the covalent continuity between the VSD and PD modules has been interrupted. These advances and new data bring about some reconsiderations about the use of exclusively a classical electromechanical lever model of VSD⁻PD coupling by some Kv channels, and open a view of the Kv-type channels as allosteric machines in which gating may be dynamically influenced by some long-range interactional/allosteric mechanisms.

Keywords: Kv channels; electro-allosteric coupling; gating; ion channels; molecular architecture; structure.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Allosteric Regulation
  • Animals
  • Cryoelectron Microscopy
  • Humans
  • Ion Channel Gating*
  • Models, Molecular
  • Potassium Channels, Voltage-Gated / chemistry*
  • Potassium Channels, Voltage-Gated / metabolism*
  • Protein Conformation
  • Protein Domains
  • Quantitative Structure-Activity Relationship*


  • Potassium Channels, Voltage-Gated