Background: Pentameric ligand-gated ion channels are modulated by general anesthetics.
Results: The crystal structure of ELIC in complex with bromoform reveals anesthetic binding in the channel pore and in novel sites in the transmembrane and extracellular domain.
Conclusion: General anesthetics allosterically modulate channel function via multisite binding.
Significance: Our data reveal detailed insight into multisite recognition of general anesthetics at the structural level.
Pentameric ligand-gated ion channels (pLGICs), such as nicotinic acetylcholine, glycine, γ-aminobutyric acid GABAA/C receptors, and the Gloeobacter violaceus ligand-gated ion channel (GLIC), are receptors that contain multiple allosteric binding sites for a variety of therapeutics, including general anesthetics. Here, we report the x-ray crystal structure of the Erwinia chrysanthemi ligand-gated ion channel (ELIC) in complex with a derivative of chloroform, which reveals important features of anesthetic recognition, involving multiple binding at three different sites. One site is located in the channel pore and equates with a noncompetitive inhibitor site found in many pLGICs. A second transmembrane site is novel and is located in the lower part of the transmembrane domain, at an interface formed between adjacent subunits. A third site is also novel and is located in the extracellular domain in a hydrophobic pocket between the β7–β10 strands. Together, these results extend our understanding of pLGIC modulation and reveal several specific binding interactions that may contribute to modulator recognition, further substantiating a multisite model of allosteric modulation in this family of ion channels.