J Gen Physiol. 2013 Apr;141(4):431-43. Epub 2013 Mar 11.

Wang Z, Dou Y, Goodchild SJ, Es-Salah-Lamoureux Z, Fedida D.

Abstract

The human ether-á-go-go-related gene (hERG) K(+) channel encodes the pore-forming subunit of the rapid delayed rectifier current, IKr, and has unique activation gating kinetics, in that the subunit of the channel activates and deactivates very slowly, which focuses the role of IKr current to a critical period during action potential repolarization in the heart. Despite its physiological importance, fundamental mechanistic properties of hERG channel activation gating remain unclear, including how voltage-sensor movement rate limits pore opening. Here, we study this directly by recording voltage-sensor domain currents in mammalian cells for the first time and measuring the rates of voltage-sensor modification by [2-(trimethylammonium)ethyl] methanethiosulfonate chloride (MTSET). Gating currents recorded from hERG channels expressed in mammalian tsA201 cells using low resistance pipettes show two charge systems, defined as Q1 and Q2, with V1/2's of -55.7 (equivalent charge, z = 1.60) and -54.2 mV (z = 1.30), respectively, with the Q2 charge system carrying approximately two thirds of the overall gating charge. The time constants for charge movement at 0 mV were 2.5 and 36.2 ms for Q1 and Q2, decreasing to 4.3 ms for Q2 at +60 mV, an order of magnitude faster than the time constants of ionic current appearance at these potentials. The voltage and time dependence of Q2 movement closely correlated with the rate of MTSET modification of I521C in the outermost region of the S4 segment, which had a V1/2 of -64 mV and time constants of 36 ± 8.5 ms and 11.6 ± 6.3 ms at 0 and +60 mV, respectively. Modeling of Q1 and Q2 charge systems showed that a minimal scheme of three transitions is sufficient to account for the experimental findings. These data point to activation steps further downstream of voltage-sensor movement that provide the major delays to pore opening in hERG channels.