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Potassium channels are highly selective for K(+) over the smaller Na(+). Intriguingly, they are permeable to larger monovalent cations such as Rb(+) and Cs(+) but are specifically blocked by the similarly sized Ba(2+). In this study, we used structural analysis to determine the binding profiles for these permeant and blocking ions in the selectivity filter of the potassium-selective NaK channel mutant NaK2K and also performed permeation experiments using single-channel recordings. Our data revealed that some ion binding properties of NaK2K are distinct from those of the canonical K(+) channels KcsA and MthK. Rb(+) bound at sites 1, 3, and 4 in NaK2K, as it does in KcsA. Cs(+), however, bound predominantly at sites 1 and 3 in NaK2K, whereas it binds at sites 1, 3, and 4 in KcsA. Moreover, Ba(2+) binding in NaK2K was distinct from that which has been observed in KcsA and MthK, even though all of these channels show similar Ba(2+) block. In the presence of K(+), Ba(2+) bound to the NaK2K channel at site 3 in conjunction with a K(+) at site 1; this led to a prolonged block of the channel (the external K(+)-dependent Ba(2+) lock-in state). In the absence of K(+), however, Ba(2+) acts as a permeating blocker. We found that, under these conditions, Ba(2+) bound at sites 1 or 0 as well as site 3, allowing it to enter the filter from the intracellular side and exit from the extracellular side. The difference in the Ba(2+) binding profile in the presence and absence of K(+) thus provides a structural explanation for the short and prolonged Ba(2+) block observed in NaK2K.

Original publication




Journal article


J Gen Physiol

Publication Date





181 - 192


Barium, Cesium, Humans, Ions, Models, Molecular, Patch-Clamp Techniques, Potassium, Potassium Channel Blockers, Potassium Channels, Protein Binding, Protein Structure, Tertiary, Recombinant Proteins, Rubidium