Architecture and structural dynamics of the heteromeric GluK2/K5 kainate receptor

Elife. 2021 Mar 16:10:e66097. doi: 10.7554/eLife.66097.


Kainate receptors (KARs) are L-glutamate-gated ion channels that regulate synaptic transmission and modulate neuronal circuits. KARs have strict assembly rules and primarily function as heteromeric receptors in the brain. A longstanding question is how KAR heteromer subunits organize and coordinate together to fulfill their signature physiological roles. Here we report structures of the GluK2/GluK5 heteromer in apo, antagonist-bound, and desensitized states. The receptor assembles with two copies of each subunit, ligand binding domains arranged as two heterodimers and GluK5 subunits proximal to the channel. Strikingly, during desensitization, GluK2, but not GluK5, subunits undergo major structural rearrangements to facilitate channel closure. We show how the large conformational differences between antagonist-bound and desensitized states are mediated by the linkers connecting the pore helices to the ligand binding domains. This work presents the first KAR heteromer structure, reveals how its subunits are organized, and resolves how the heteromer can accommodate functionally distinct closed channel structures.

Keywords: HEK cells; Sf9 cells; baculovirus; human; molecular biophysics; neuroscience; structural biology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Binding Sites
  • Glutamic Acid / metabolism
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Humans
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Conformation
  • Protein Interaction Domains and Motifs
  • Protein Multimerization
  • Protein Subunits / chemistry
  • Protein Subunits / metabolism
  • Receptors, Kainic Acid / chemistry*
  • Receptors, Kainic Acid / metabolism*


  • Gluk2 kainate receptor
  • Protein Subunits
  • Receptors, Kainic Acid
  • Glutamic Acid