Signal transduction through Cys-loop receptors is mediated by the nonspecific bumping of closely apposed domains

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One of the most fundamental questions in the field of Cys-loop receptors (pentameric ligand-gated ion channels, pLGICs) is how the affinity for neurotransmitters and the conductive/nonconductive state of the transmembrane pore are correlated despite the ∼60-Å distance between the corresponding domains. Proposed mechanisms differ, but they all converge into the idea that interactions between wild-type side chains across the extracellular-transmembranedomain (ECD-TMD) interface are crucial for this phenomenon. Indeed, the successful design of fully functional chimeras that combine intact ECD and TMD modules from different wild-type pLGICs has commonly been ascribed to the residual conservation of sequence that exists at the level of the interfacial loops even between evolutionarily distant parent channels. Here, using mutagenesis, patchclamp electrophysiology, and radiolabeled-ligand binding experiments, we studied the effect of eliminating this residual conservation of sequence on ion-channel function and cell-surface expression. From our results, we conclude that proper state interconversion ("gating") does not require conservation of sequence-or even physicochemical properties-across the ECD-TMD interface. Wild-type ECD and TMD side chains undoubtedly interact with their surroundings, but the interactions between them-straddling the interface- do not seem to be more important for gating than those occurring elsewhere in the protein. We propose that gating of pLGICs requires, instead, that the overall structure of the interfacial loops be conserved, and that their relative orientation and distance be the appropriate ones for changes in one side to result in changes in the other, in a phenomenon akin to the nonspecific "bumping" of closely apposed domains.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2021016118
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number14
StatePublished - Apr 6 2021


  • Alpha-7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor
  • Chimeric constructs
  • Glutamate-gated chloride channel
  • Ion-channel gating
  • Pentameric ligandgated ion channels

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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