Engineered Ionizable Side Chains.

Advances in experimental medicine and biology

PubMedID: 26381938

Cymes GD, Grosman C. Engineered Ionizable Side Chains. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2015;8695-23.
One of the great challenges of mechanistic ion-channel biology is to obtain structural information from well-defined functional states. In the case of neurotransmitter-gated ion channels, the open-channel conformation is particularly elusive owing to its transient nature and brief mean lifetime. In this Chapter, we show how the analysis of single-channel currents recorded from mutants engineered to contain single ionizable side chains in the transmembrane region can provide specific information about the open-channel conformation without any interference from the closed or desensitized conformations. The method takes advantage of the fact that the alternate binding and unbinding of protons to and from an ionizable side chain causes the charge of the protein to fluctuate by 1 unit. We show that, in mutant muscle acetylcholine nicotinic receptors (AChRs), this fluctuating charge affects the rate of ion conduction in such a way that individual proton-transfer events can be identified in a most straightforward manner. From the extent to which the single-channel current amplitude is reduced every time a proton binds, we can learn about the proximity of the engineered side chain to the lumen of the pore. And from the kinetics of proton binding and unbinding, we can calculate the side-chain's affinity for protons (pK a), and hence, we can learn about the electrostatic properties of the microenvironment around the introduced ionizable group. The application of this method to systematically mutated AChRs allowed us to identify unambiguously the stripes of the M1, M2 and M3 transmembrane a-helices that face the pore's lumen in the open-channel conformation in the context of a native membrane.