Quaternary structure independent folding of voltage-gated ion channel pore domain subunits

Nat Struct Mol Biol. 2022 Jun;29(6):537-548. doi: 10.1038/s41594-022-00775-x. Epub 2022 Jun 2.


Every voltage-gated ion channel (VGIC) has a pore domain (PD) made from four subunits, each comprising an antiparallel transmembrane helix pair bridged by a loop. The extent to which PD subunit structure requires quaternary interactions is unclear. Here, we present crystal structures of a set of bacterial voltage-gated sodium channel (BacNaV) 'pore only' proteins that reveal a surprising collection of non-canonical quaternary arrangements in which the PD tertiary structure is maintained. This context-independent structural robustness, supported by molecular dynamics simulations, indicates that VGIC-PD tertiary structure is independent of quaternary interactions. This fold occurs throughout the VGIC superfamily and in diverse transmembrane and soluble proteins. Strikingly, characterization of PD subunit-binding Fabs indicates that non-canonical quaternary PD conformations can occur in full-length VGICs. Together, our data demonstrate that the VGIC-PD is an autonomously folded unit. This property has implications for VGIC biogenesis, understanding functional states, de novo channel design, and VGIC structural origins.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Molecular Conformation
  • Molecular Dynamics Simulation
  • Voltage-Gated Sodium Channels* / chemistry
  • Voltage-Gated Sodium Channels* / metabolism


  • Voltage-Gated Sodium Channels