Structures of the prokaryotic K+ channel, KcsA, highlight the role of the selectivity filter carbonyls from the GYG signature sequence in determining a highly selective pore, but channels displaying this sequence vary widely in their cation selectivity. Furthermore, variable selectivity can be found within the same channel during a process called C-type inactivation. We investigated the mechanism for changes in selectivity associated with inactivation in a model K+ channel, KcsA. We found that E71A, a noninactivating KcsA mutant in which a hydrogen-bond behind the selectivity filter is disrupted, also displays decreased K+ selectivity. In E71A channels, Na+ permeates at higher rates as seen with 86Rb+ and 22Na+ flux measurements and analysis of intracellular Na+ block. Crystal structures of E71A reveal that the selectivity filter no longer assumes the "collapsed," presumed inactivated, conformation in low K+, but a "flipped" conformation, that is also observed in high K+, high Na+, and even Na+ only conditions. The data reveal the importance of the E71-D80 interaction in both favoring inactivation and maintaining high K+ selectivity. We propose a molecular mechanism by which inactivation and K+ selectivity are linked, a mechanism that may also be at work in other channels containing the canonical GYG signature sequence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5272-5277
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number13
StatePublished - Mar 29 2011


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