J Gen Physiol. 2012 Nov;140(5):495-511. doi: 10.1085/jgp.201210823. Epub 2012 Oct 15.

Goodchild SJ, Xu H, Es-Salah-Lamoureux Z, Ahern CA, Fedida D.


The open state of voltage-gated potassium (Kv) channels is associated with an increased stability relative to the pre-open closed states and is reflected by a slowing of OFF gating currents after channel opening. The basis for this stabilization is usually assigned to intrinsic structural features of the open pore. We have studied the gating currents of Kv1.2 channels and found that the stabilization of the open state is instead conferred largely by the presence of cations occupying the inner cavity of the channel. Large impermeant intracellular cations such as N-methyl-d-glucamine (NMG(+)) and tetraethylammonium cause severe slowing of channel closure and gating currents, whereas the smaller cation, Cs(+), displays a more moderate effect on voltage sensor return. A nonconducting mutant also displays significant open state stabilization in the presence of intracellular K(+), suggesting that K(+) ions in the intracellular cavity also slow pore closure. A mutation in the S6 segment used previously to enlarge the inner cavity (Kv1.2-I402C) relieves the slowing of OFF gating currents in the presence of the large NMG(+) ion, suggesting that the interaction site for stabilizing ions resides within the inner cavity and creates an energetic barrier to pore closure. The physiological significance of ionic occupation of the inner cavity is underscored by the threefold slowing of ionic current deactivation in the wild-type channel compared with Kv1.2-I402C. The data suggest that internal ions, including physiological concentrations of K(+), allosterically regulate the deactivation kinetics of the Kv1.2 channel by impairing pore closure and limiting the return of voltage sensors. This may represent a primary mechanism by which Kv channel deactivation kinetics is linked to ion permeation and reveals a novel role for channel inner cavity residues to indirectly regulate voltage sensor dynamics.