Emergence of ion channel modal gating from independent subunit kinetics

Brendan A. Bicknell, Geoffrey J. Goodhill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Many ion channels exhibit a slow stochastic switching between distinct modes of gating activity. This feature of channel behavior has pronounced implications for the dynamics of ionic currents and the signaling pathways that they regulate. A canonical example is the inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate receptor (IP3 R) channel, whose regulation of intracellular Ca2+ concentration is essential for numerous cellular processes. However, the underlying biophysical mechanisms that give rise to modal gating in this and most other channels remain unknown. Although ion channels are composed of protein subunits, previous mathematical models of modal gating are coarse grained at the level of whole-channel states, limiting further dialogue between theory and experiment. Here we propose an origin for modal gating, by modeling the kinetics of ligand binding and conformational change in the IP3 R at the subunit level. We find good agreement with experimental data over a wide range of ligand concentrations, accounting for equilibrium channel properties, transient responses to changing ligand conditions, and modal gating statistics. We show how this can be understood within a simple analytical framework and confirm our results with stochastic simulations. The model assumes that channel subunits are independent, demonstrating that cooperative binding or concerted conformational changes are not required for modal gating. Moreover, the model embodies a generally applicable principle: If a timescale separation exists in the kinetics of individual subunits, then modal gating can arise as an emergent property of channel behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E5288-E5297
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number36
StatePublished - Sep 6 2016


  • Inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate receptor
  • Ion channel|modal gating
  • Markov model|calcium signaling


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