Acid-sensing ion channels (ASICs), sensory molecules that continuously monitor the concentration of extracellular protons and initiate diverse intracellular responses through an influx of cations, are assembled from six subtypes that can differentially combine to form various trimeric channel complexes and elicit unique electrophysiological responses. For instance, homomeric ASIC1a channels have been shown to exhibit prolonged desensitization, and acid-evoked currents become smaller when the channels are repeatedly activated by extracellular protons, whereas homomeric or heteromeric ASIC2a channels continue to respond to repetitive acidic stimuli without exhibiting such desensitization. Although previous studies have provided evidence that both the desensitization of ASIC1a and rapid resensitization of ASIC2a commonly require domains that include the N terminus and the first transmembrane region of these channels, the biophysical basis of channel gating at the amino acid level has not been clearly determined. Here, we confirm that domain-swapping mutations replacing the N terminus of ASIC2a with that of ASIC2b result in de novo prolonged desensitization in homomeric channels following activation by extracellular protons. Such desensitization of chimeric ASIC2a mutants is due neither to internalization nor to degradation of the channel proteins. We use site-directed mutagenesis to narrow down the relevant portion of the N terminus of ASIC2a, identifying three amino acid residues within the N terminus (T25, T39, and I40) whose mutation is sufficient to phenocopy the desensitization exhibited by the chimeric mutants. A similar desensitization is observed in heteromeric ASICs containing the mutant subunit. These results suggest that T25, T39, and I40 of ASIC2a are key residues determining the rapid resensitization of homomeric and heteromeric ASIC2a channels upon proton activation.
© 2019 Lee et al.