Muscle acetylcholine receptor conversion into chloride conductance at positive potentials by a single mutation

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2019 Oct 15;116(42):21228-21235. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1908284116. Epub 2019 Sep 30.


Charge selectivity forms the basis of cellular excitation or inhibition by Cys-loop ligand-gated ion channels (LGICs), and is essential for physiological receptor function. There are no reports of naturally occurring mutations in LGICs associated with the conversion of charge selectivity. Here, we report on a CHRNA1 mutation (α1Leu251Arg) in a patient with congenital myasthenic syndrome associated with transformation of the muscle acetylcholine receptor (AChR) into an inhibitory channel. Performing patch-clamp experiments, the AChR was found to be converted into chloride conductance at positive potentials, whereas whole-cell currents at negative potentials, although markedly reduced, were still carried by sodium. Umbrella sampling molecular dynamics simulations revealed constriction of the channel pore radius to 2.4 Å as a result of the mutation, which required partial desolvation of the ions in order to permeate the pore. Ion desolvation was associated with an energetic penalty that was compensated for by the favorable electrostatic interaction of the positively charged arginines with chloride. These findings reveal a mechanism for the transformation of the muscle AChR into an inhibitory channel in a clinical context.

Keywords: acetylcholine receptor; charge selectivity; myasthenia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / metabolism*
  • Cell Line
  • Chlorides / metabolism*
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Humans
  • Ion Channel Gating / physiology
  • Membrane Potentials / physiology
  • Muscles / metabolism*
  • Mutation / genetics*
  • Myasthenic Syndromes, Congenital / metabolism
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques / methods
  • Receptors, Cholinergic / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / metabolism
  • Sodium / metabolism


  • Chlorides
  • Receptors, Cholinergic
  • Receptors, Nicotinic
  • Sodium
  • Acetylcholine