A critical part of ion channel function is the ability to open and close in response to stimuli and thus conduct ions in a regulated fashion. While x-ray diffraction studies of ion channels suggested a general steric gating mechanism located at the helix bundle crossing (HBC), recent functional studies on several channels indicate that the helix bundle crossing is wide-open even in functionally nonconductive channels. Two NaK channel variants were crystallized in very different open and closed conformations, which served as important models of the HBC gating hypothesis. However, neither of these NaK variants is conductive in liposomes unless phenylalanine 92 is mutated to alanine (F92A). Here, we use NMR to probe distances at near-atomic resolution of the two NaK variants in lipid bicelles. We demonstrate that in contrast to the crystal structures, both NaK variants are in a fully open conformation, akin to Ca2+-bound MthK channel structure where the HBC is widely open. While we were not able to determine what a conductive NaK structure is like, our further inquiry into the gating mechanism suggests that the selectivity filter and pore helix are coupled to the M2 helix below and undergo changes in the structure when F92 is mutated. Overall, our data show that NaK exhibits coupling between the selectivity filter and HBC, similar to K+ channels, and has a more complex gating mechanism than previously thought, where the full opening of HBC does not lead to channel activation.

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 http://www.rupress.org/terms/). After six months it is available under a Creative Commons License (Attribution–Noncommercial–Share Alike 4.0 International license, as described at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/).
You do not currently have access to this content.