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A stepwise mechanism for acetylcholine receptor channel gating

Nature volume 446, pages 930933 (19 April 2007) | Download Citation


Muscle contraction is triggered by the opening of acetylcholine receptors at the vertebrate nerve–muscle synapse1,2,3,4. The M2 helix of this allosteric membrane protein lines the channel, and contains a ‘gate’ that regulates the flow of ions through the pore. We used single-molecule kinetic analysis to probe the transition state of the gating conformational change and estimate the relative timing of M2 motions in the α-subunit of the murine acetylcholine receptor5. This analysis produces a ‘Φ-value’ for a given residue that reflects its open-like versus closed-like character at the transition state. Here we show that most of the residues throughout the length of M2 have a Φ-value of 0.64 but that some near the middle have lower Φ-values of 0.52 or 0.31, suggesting that αM2 moves in three discrete steps. The core of the channel serves both as a gate that regulates ion flow and as a hub that directs the propagation of the gating isomerization through the membrane domain of the acetylcholine receptor.

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We thank C. Grosman, P. Gottlieb and F. Sachs for discussions, and C. Nicolai, B. Steidl, M. Merritt and M. Teeling for technical assistance. This work was supported by the NIH.

Author Contributions All of the experiments and data analyses shown in Fig. 2 were performed by P.P. except for those for positions 4′ and 9′, which were performed by A.M.

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  1. Department of Physiology and Biophysics, State University of New York at Buffalo, Buffalo, New York 14214, USA

    • Prasad Purohit
    • , Ananya Mitra
    •  & Anthony Auerbach


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Reprints and permissions information is available at www.nature.com/reprints. The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Anthony Auerbach.

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    Supplementary Information

    This file contains Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Tables 1-2, Supplementary Figures 1-2 with Legends and additional references.

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