Stabilization of the Activated hERG Channel Voltage Sensor by Depolarization Involves the S4-S5 Linker
Abstract Slow deactivation of hERG channels is critical for preventing cardiac arrhythmia yet the mechanistic basis for the slow gating transition is unclear. Here, we characterized the temporal sequence of events leading to voltage sensor stabilization upon membrane depolarization. Progressive increase in step depolarization duration slowed voltage-sensor return in a biphasic manner ( τ fast = 34 ms, τ slow = 2. 2.5 s). The faster phase of voltage-sensor return slowing correlated with the kinetics of pore opening. The slower component occurred over durations that exceeded channel activation and was consistent with voltage sensor relaxation. The S4-S5 linker mutation, G546L, impeded the faster phase of voltage sensor stabilization without attenuating the slower phase, suggesting that the S4-S5 linker is important for communications between the pore gate and the voltage sensor during deactivation. These data also demonstrate that the mechanisms of pore gate-opening-induced and relaxation-induced voltage-sensor stabilization are separable. Deletion of the distal N-terminus (Δ2–135) accelerated off-gating current, but did not influence the relative contribution of either mechanism of stabilization of the voltage sensor. Lastly, we characterized mode-shift behavior in hERG channels, which results from stabilization of activated channel states. The apparent mode-shift depended greatly on recording conditions. By measuring slow activation and deactivation at steady state we found the “true” mode-shift to be ∼15 mV. Interestingly, the “true” mode-shift of gating currents was ∼40 mV, much greater than that of the pore gate. This demonstrates that voltage sensor return is less energetically favorable upon repolarization than pore gate closure. We interpret this to indicate that stabilization of the activated voltage sensor limits the return of hERG channels to rest. The data suggest that this stabilization occurs as a result of reconfiguration of the pore gate upon opening by a mechanism that is influenced by the S4-S5 linker, and by a separable voltage-sensor intrinsic relaxation mechanism.
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