The gating ring-forming RCK domain regulates channel gating in response to various cellular chemical stimuli in eukaryotic Slo channel families and the majority of ligand-gated prokaryotic K+ channels and transporters. Here we present structural and functional studies of a dual RCK-containing, multi-ligand gated K+ channel from Geobacter sulfurreducens, named GsuK. We demonstrate that ADP and NAD+ activate the GsuK channel, whereas Ca2+ serves as an allosteric inhibitor. Multiple crystal structures elucidate the structural basis of multi-ligand gating in GsuK, and also reveal a unique ion conduction pore with segmented inner helices. Structural comparison leads us to propose a novel pore opening mechanics that is distinct from other K+ channels.
Most cells are surrounded by a semipermeable membrane, and although this membrane allows very few molecules to pass through it, cells can use transmembrane proteins to overcome this barrier. Some of these proteins import glucose, amino acids and other nutrients into the cell, while others transport ions into or out of the cell. Ion transport across the cell membrane is essential for a wide variety of biological processes, including signal transduction and the generation of electrical impulses in nerve cells.
The pores that allow ions to travel through the cell membrane are known as ion channels, and most channels allow only one type of ion—usually sodium, calcium or potassium (K+) ions—to pass through them. There are many different types of ion channels and they are classified according to the type of ion they allow to pass through them, and by the gating mechanism that is used to open and close the channel. For example, ligand-gated K+ channels facilitate the passage of potassium ions and are opened and closed by ligands binding and unbinding to and from the channel.
Most K+ channels are made up of four identical subunits, and in the majority of ligand-gated K+ channels in prokaryotes, each of these subunits will have one or two ligand-binding RCK domains (where RCK stands for regulating the conductance of K+). This is also true for some K+ channels in eukaryotes. While it is known that RCK domains are responsible for regulating the transport of potassium ions across the cell membranes of diverse organisms, little is known about the structure or gating mechanisms of K+ channels that are gated by more than one ligand.
Kong et al. have studied a ligand-gated K+ channel called GsuK that has two RCK domains per subunit and is found in the bacterium G. sulfurreducens. They found that the opening process was mediated by a ligand that contains adenine, such as NAD+ or ADP, and the channel was closed by the presence of calcium ions. And by determining multiple crystal structures, Kong et al. were able to understand, from a structural point of view, how these ligands regulate this channel, and to propose a gating mechanism that is distinct from the mechanisms that are known to control other potassium channels.