Initiation of skeletal muscle contraction is triggered by rapid activation of RYR1 channels in response to sarcolemmal depolarization. RYR1 is intracellular and has no voltage-sensing structures, but it is coupled with the voltage-sensing apparatus of CaV1.1 channels to inherit voltage sensitivity. Using an opto-electrophysiological approach, we resolved the excitation-driven molecular events controlling both CaV1.1 and RYR1 activations, reported as fluorescence changes. We discovered that each of the four human CaV1.1 voltage-sensing domains (VSDs) exhibits unique biophysical properties: VSD-I time-dependent properties were similar to ionic current activation kinetics, suggesting a critical role of this voltage sensor in CaV1.1 activation; VSD-II, VSD-III, and VSD-IV displayed faster activation, compatible with kinetics of sarcoplasmic reticulum Ca2+ release. The prominent role of VSD-I in governing CaV1.1 activation was also confirmed using a naturally occurring, charge-neutralizing mutation in VSD-I (R174W). This mutation abolished CaV1.1 current at physiological membrane potentials by impairing VSD-I activation without affecting the other VSDs. Using a structurally relevant allosteric model of CaV activation, which accounted for both time- and voltage-dependent properties of CaV1.1, to predict VSD-pore coupling energies, we found that VSD-I contributed the most energy (~75 meV or ∼3 kT) toward the stabilization of the open states of the channel, with smaller (VSD-IV) or negligible (VSDs II and III) energetic contribution from the other voltage sensors (<25 meV or ∼1 kT). This study settles the longstanding question of how CaV1.1, a slowly activating channel, can trigger RYR1 rapid activation, and reveals a new mechanism for voltage-dependent activation in ion channels, whereby pore opening of human CaV1.1 channels is primarily driven by the activation of one voltage sensor, a mechanism distinct from that of all other voltage-gated channels.

This article is distributed under the terms of an Attribution–Noncommercial–Share Alike–No Mirror Sites license for the first six months after the publication date (see After six months it is available under a Creative Commons License (Attribution–Noncommercial–Share Alike 4.0 International license, as described at
You do not currently have access to this content.