Ion channels directly sense a wide variety of physical and chemical stimuli. Of these, the molecular principles of temperature-sensing and temperature-dependent gating are perhaps the least understood. Here we seek to understand the molecular mechanism of temperature-sensitivity by systematically studying the engineered Shaker potassium channel. The Shaker potassium channel will be developed as a model system for biophysical studies of temperature-dependent gating because of our substantial understanding of its structure and dynamics. We propose to test the hypothesis that solvent mediated interactions of amino acid side-chains at sites undergoing a change in solvent accessibility may underlie temperature-sensitive response of ion channels. Our studies will combine newly developed free-energy measurements of channel gating with electrophysiology, fluorescence spectroscopy and molecular simulations. We will broadly focus our investigations on the voltage-sensing domain of the Shaker potassium channel. First, we will test the correlation between voltage- and temperature-sensitivity. Thermodynamic analysis of the temperature- and voltage-sensitive characteristics of the specialized temperature-sensitive ion channels led to the idea that the voltage- and temperature-sensitivities of ion channels are inversely correlated. This hypothesis will be tested by characterizing the temperature dependent response of mutants of the potassium ion channels, whose voltage-dependencies are reduced by neutralization of charge residues responsible for their voltage-dependence. Second, we will test the importance of the non-polar residues in the S4 segment of the Shaker channel and its influence on temperature sensitivity. The hydrophobic residues of S4 segment are likely to undergo a change in environment polarity as the channel activates. We will test whether altering the polarity of these sites leads to temperature-dependent phenotypes. We will also utilize heavy water as a probe for studying solvent accessibility at these sites. These experiments will be combined with novel spectroscopic approach to test whether the temperature sensitive substitutions alter the nature of structural changes occurring in the proteins. Finally, we will evaluate the importance of water-accessible residues within protein crevices. Altering the polarity of these residues is expected to change the energies associated with their solvation/desolvation process. We will introduce polar and non-polar substitutions at each of these sites and test the functional temperature sensitivity of these mutants. The effects of these substitutions on the geometry of the crevices will be assessed by measuring the ionic strength dependence of charge translocation process. These experiments will be combined with molecular dynamics simulations to evaluate the role of these perturbations on water dynamics within the crevices. At the conclusion of these studies, we would have made significant headway in testing molecular theories that may underlie the temperature-dependence of ion channel gating, developed a new model system and refined our knowledge of the role of water in ion channel gating.
The ability to sense and respond to temperature is important for survival as well as evolutionary success of an organism. Ion channels are the primary sensors that initiate signaling cascades in response to temperature stimuli. This project addresses fundamental questions regarding the mechanisms that determine temperature sensitivity of ion channels and also focuses on developing new models to study this phenomenon. Insights gained from this study may help develop better treatments to cure diseases such as inherited erythromelalgia and multiple sclerosis.
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