Ligand-gated ion channels are critical mediators of electrochemical signal transduction across evolution. Biophysical and pharmacological characterization of these receptor proteins relies on high-quality structures in multiple, subtly distinct functional states. However, structural data in this family remain limited, particularly for resting and intermediate states on the activation pathway.

Here, we report cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) structures of the proton-activated Gloeobacter violaceus ligand-gated ion channel (GLIC) under three pH conditions. Decreased pH was associated with improved resolution and side chain rearrangements at the subunit/domain interface, particularly involving functionally important residues in the β1–β2 and M2–M3 loops.

Molecular dynamics simulations substantiated flexibility in the closed-channel extracellular domains relative to the transmembrane ones and supported electrostatic remodeling around E35 and E243 in proton-induced gating. Exploration of secondary cryo-EM classes further indicated a low-pH population with an expanded pore.

These results allow us to define distinct protonation and activation steps in pH-stimulated conformational cycling in GLIC, including interfacial rearrangements largely conserved in the pentameric channel family.

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Urška Rovšnik, Yuxuan Zhuang, Björn O Forsberg, Marta Carroni, Linnea Yvonnesdotter, Rebecca J Howard, Erik Lindahl (2021):
Dynamic closed states of a ligand-gated ion channel captured by cryo-EM and simulations
Life Science Alliance 4(8)

About the author

Stian works in School of Computer Science, at the University of Manchester in Carole Goble‘s eScience Lab as a technical software architect and researcher. In addition to BioExcel, Stian’s involvements include Open PHACTS (pharmacological data warehouse), Common Workflow Language (CWL), Apache Taverna (scientific workflow system), Linked Data and identifiers, research objects (open science) and digital preservation, myExperiment (sharing scientific workflows), provenance (where did things come from and who did it) and annotations (who said what).