Blockade of large-conductance Ca2+-activated K+ (BK) channels by the bulky quaternary ammonium compound, N-(4-[benzoyl]benzyl)-N,N,N- tributylammonium (bbTBA), exhibits features consistent with blockade of both closed and open states. Here, we examine block of closed BK channels by bbTBA and how it may differ from block of open channels. Although our observations generally confirm earlier results, we describe three observations that are inconsistent with a model in which closed and open channels are equally accessible to blockade by bbTBA. First, block by bbTBA exhibits Ca 2+-dependent features that are inconsistent with strictly state-independent block. Second, the steady-state voltage dependence of bbTBA block at negative potentials shows that any block of completely closed states either does not occur or is completely voltage independent. Third, determination of the fractional unblock by bbTBA at either low or high Ca2+ reveals deviations from a model in which open- and closed-state block is identical. The results support the view that bbTBA blockade of fully closed channels does not occur. We imagine two general types of explanation. First, a stronger voltage dependence of closed-channel block may minimize the contribution of closed-channel block at negative potentials. Second, voltage-dependent conformational changes among closed-channel states may permit block by bbTBA. The analysis supports the latter view, suggesting that bbTBA blockade of fully closed channels does not occur, but the ability of bbTBA to block a closed channel requires movement of one or more voltage sensors. Models in which block is coupled to voltage sensor movement can qualitatively account for (1) the ability of open-channel block to better fit block of conductance-voltage curves at high Ca2+; (2) the voltage dependence of fractional availability; and (3) the fractional unblock at different open probabilities. BK channels appear to undergo voltage-dependent conformational changes among closed states that are permissive for bbTBA block.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)409-436
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of General Physiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 2009


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