The steep dependence of channel opening on membrane voltage allows voltage-dependent K+ channels to turn on almost like a switch. Opening is driven by the movement of gating charges that originate from arginine residues on helical S4 segments of the protein. Each S4 segment forms half of a ‘voltage-sensor paddle’ on the channel's outer perimeter. Here we show that the voltage-sensor paddles are positioned inside the membrane, near the intracellular surface, when the channel is closed, and that the paddles move a large distance across the membrane from inside to outside when the channel opens. KvAP channels were reconstituted into planar lipid membranes and studied using monoclonal Fab fragments, a voltage-sensor toxin, and avidin binding to tethered biotin. Our findings lead us to conclude that the voltage-sensor paddles operate somewhat like hydrophobic cations attached to levers, enabling the membrane electric field to open and close the pore.
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We thank D. Gadsby and O. Andersen for helpful discussions and advice on the manuscript. This work was supported in part by a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to R.M. V.R. is supported by a National Science Foundation Graduate Student Research Fellowship, and R.M. is an Investigator in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.
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Jiang, Y., Ruta, V., Chen, J. et al. The principle of gating charge movement in a voltage-dependent K+ channel. Nature 423, 42–48 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature01581
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