Structural models of the transmembrane region of voltage-gated and other K+ channels in open, closed, and inactivated conformations

J Struct Biol. 1998;121(2):263-84. doi: 10.1006/jsbi.1998.3962.


A large collaborative, multidisciplinary effort involving many research laboratories continues which uses indirect methods of molecular biology and membrane biophysics to analyze the three-dimensional structures and functional mechanisms of K+ channels. This work also extends to the distant relatives of these channels, including the voltage-gated Na+ and Ca2+ channels. The role that our group plays in this process is to combine the information gained from experimental studies with molecular modeling techniques to generate atomic-scale structural models of these proteins. The modeling process involves three stages which are summarized as: (I) prediction of the channel sequence transmembrane topology, including the functionality and secondary structure of the segments; (II) prediction of the relative positions of the transmembrane segments, and (III) filling in all atoms of the amino acid residues, with conformations for energetically stabilized interactions. Both physiochemical and evolutionary principles (including sequence homology analysis) are used to guide the development. In addition to testing the steric and energetic feasibilities of different structural hypotheses, the models provide guidance for the design of new experiments. Structural modeling also serves to "fill in the gaps" of experimental data, such as predicting additional residue interactions and conformational changes responsible for functional processes. The modeling process is currently at the stage that experimental studies have definitely confirmed most of our earlier predictions about the transmembrane topology and functionality of different segments. Additionally, this report describes the detailed, three-dimensional models we have developed for the entire transmembrane region and important functional sites of the voltage-gated Shaker K+ channel in the open, closed, and inactivated conformations (including the ion-selective pore and voltage-sensor regions). As part of this effort, we also describe how our development of structural models for many of the other major K+ channel families aids in determining common structural motifs. As an example, we also present a detailed model of the smaller, bacterial K+ channel from Streptomyces lividans. Finally, we discuss strategies for using newly developed experimental methods for determining the structures and analyzing the functions of these channel proteins.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Computer Simulation
  • Eukaryotic Cells / chemistry
  • Ion Channel Gating
  • Models, Molecular*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Potassium Channels / chemistry*
  • Potassium Channels / physiology
  • Prokaryotic Cells / chemistry
  • Protein Conformation*
  • Sequence Alignment
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid
  • Shaker Superfamily of Potassium Channels


  • Potassium Channels
  • Shaker Superfamily of Potassium Channels