Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Biochemistry and Molecular Pharmacology


Biochemistry and Molecular Pharmacology

First Thesis Advisor

William Kobertz, Ph.D.


Potassium Channels, Voltage-Gated, KCNQ1 Potassium Channel


The KCNE1 and KCNE3 type I transmembrane-spanning β-subunits assemble with the KCNQ1 voltage-gated K+ channel to afford membrane-embedded complexes with dramatically different properties. Assembly with KCNE1 produces the very slowly activating and deactivating IKs current that shapes the repolarization phase of cardiac action potentials. Genetic mutations in KCNQ1 or KCNE1 that reduce IKs current cause long QT syndrome and predispose affected individuals to potentially fatal cardiac arrhythmias. In contrast, complexes formed between KCNQ1 and KCNE3 produce rapidly activating and mostly voltage-independent currents, properties that are essential for function in K+ recycling and Clsecretion in gastrointestinal epithelia.

This thesis addresses how these two homologous accessory peptides impart their distinctive effects on KCNQ1 channel gating by examining two important protein regions: 1) a conserved C-terminal motif in the β-subunits themselves, and 2) the voltage sensing domain of KCNQ1 channels.

Sequences in both the transmembrane domain and C-terminus of KCNE1 and KCNE3 have been identified as contributing to the divergent modulatory effects that these β-subunits exert. The homology of transmembrane-abutting C-terminal residues within the KCNE family and the presence of long QT-causing mutations in this region highlight its importance. A bipartite model of modulation was proposed that suggests the transmembrane domain of KCNE1 is passive, allowing the C-terminal domain to control modulation. Chapter II builds on this model by investigating the effect of mutating specific amino acids in the KCNE1 C-terminal domain. Point mutants that produce ‘high impact’ perturbations in gating were shown to cluster in a periodic fashion, suggesting an alpha-helical secondary structure that is kinked by a conserved proline residue and interacts with the Q1 channel complex.

In Chapter III, the voltage sensing domain of Q1 channels is examined in the presence of either KCNE1 or KCNE3. To determine the influence of these two peptides on voltage sensing, the position of the S4 voltage sensor was monitored using cysteine accessibility experiments. In the slowly opening KCNQ1/KCNE1 complexes, voltage sensor activation appears to occur much faster than the onset of current, suggesting that slow channel activation is not due to slowly moving voltage sensors. KCNE3, on the other hand, shifts the voltage sensor equilibrium to favor the active state, producing open channels even at negative voltages.

Taken together, these findings provide mechanistic detail to illustrate how two homologous peptides radically alter the gating properties of the same K+ channel and present a structural scaffold to map protein-protein interactions.



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