Voltage-gated ion channels are membrane proteins containing a selective pore that allows permeable ions to transit the membrane in response to a change in the transmembrane voltage. The typical selectivity filter in potassium channels is formed by a tetrameric arrangement of the carbonyl groups of the conserved amino-acid sequence Gly-Tyr-Gly. This canonical pore is opened or closed by conformational changes that originate in the voltage sensor (S4), a transmembrane helix with a series of positively charged amino acids. This sensor moves through a gating pore formed by elements of the S1, S2 and S3 helices, across the plane of the membrane, without allowing ions to pass through the membrane at that site. Recently, synthetic mutagenesis studies in the Drosophila melanogaster Shaker channel and analysis of human disease-causing mutations in sodium channels have identified amino acid residues that are integral parts of the gating-pore; when these residues are mutated the proteins allow a non-specific cation current, known as the omega current, to pass through the gating-pore with relatively low selectivity.
The N.at-Kv3.2 potassium channel has an unusual weak inward rectifier phenotype. Several mutations of two amino acids in the voltage sensing (S4) transmembrane helix change the phenotype to a typical delayed rectifier. The inward rectifier channels (wild-type and mutant) are sensitive to 4-aminopyridine (4-AP) but not tetra-ethyl ammonium (TEA), whereas the delayed rectifier mutants are sensitive to TEA but not 4-AP. The inward rectifier channels also manifest low cation selectivity. The relative selectivity for different cations is sensitive to specific mutations in the S4 helix,
N.at-Kv3.2, a naturally occurring potassium channel of the Kv3 sequence family, mediates ion permeation through a modified gating pore, not the canonical, highly selective pore typical of potassium channels. This channel has evolved to yield qualitatively different ion permeability when compared to all other members of this gene family.