Structural symmetry is a hallmark of homomeric ion channels. Nonobligatory regulatory proteins can also critically define the precise functional role of such channels. For instance, the poreforming subunit of the large conductance voltage and calciumactivated potassium (BK, Slo1, or KCa1.1) channels encoded by a single KCa1.1 gene assembles in a fourfold symmetric fashion. Functional diversity arises from two families of regulatory subunits, β and γ, which help define the range of voltages over which BK channels in a given cell are activated, thereby defining physiological roles. A BK channel can contain zero to four β subunits per channel, with each β subunit incrementally influencing channel gating behavior, consistent with symmetry expectations. In contrast, a γ1 subunit (or single type of γ1 subunit complex) produces a functionally all-or-none effect, but the underlying stoichiometry of γ1 assembly and function remains unknown. Here we utilize two distinct and independent methods, a Forster resonance energy transfer-based optical approach and a functional reporter in single-channel recordings, to reveal that a BK channel can contain up to four γ1 subunits, but a single γ1 subunit suffices to induce the full gating shift. This requires that the asymmetric association of a single regulatory protein can act in a highly concerted fashion to allosterically influence conformational equilibria in an otherwise symmetric K+ channel.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9923-9928
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number40
StatePublished - Oct 2 2018


  • Bk channels
  • Fret
  • K+ channels
  • Regulatory subunits
  • Stoichiometry


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