Probing function in ligand-gated ion channels without measuring ion transport

Nicole E. Godellas, Claudio Grosman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Although the functional properties of ion channels are most accurately assessed using electrophysiological approaches, a number of experimental situations call for alternative methods. Here, working on members of the pentameric ligand-gated ion channel (pLGIC) superfamily, we focused on the practical implementation of, and the interpretation of results from, equilibrium-type ligand-binding assays. Ligand-binding studies of pLGICs are by no means new, but the lack of uniformity in published protocols, large disparities between the results obtained for a given parameter by different groups, and a general disregard for constraints placed on the experimental observations by simple theoretical considerations suggested that a thorough analysis of this classic technique was in order. To this end, we present a detailed practical and theoretical study of this type of assay using radiolabeled α-bungarotoxin, unlabeled small-molecule cholinergic ligands, the human homomeric α7-AChR, and extensive calculations in the framework of a realistic five-binding-site reaction scheme. Furthermore, we show examples of the practical application of this method to tackle two longstanding questions in the field: our results suggest that ligand-binding affinities are insensitive to binding-site occupancy and that mutations to amino-acid residues in the transmembrane domain are unlikely to affect the channel’s affinities for ligands that bind to the extracellular domain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere202213082
JournalJournal of General Physiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 6 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology


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