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Inward rectifier (Kir) potassium channels are characterized by two transmembrane helices per subunit, plus an intracellular C-terminal domain that controls channel gating in response to changes in concentration of various ligands. Based on the crystal structure of the tetrameric C-terminal domain of Kir3.1, it is possible to build a homology model of the ATP-binding C-terminal domain of Kir6.2. Molecular dynamics simulations have been used to probe the dynamics of Kir C-terminal domains and to explore the relationship between their dynamics and possible mechanisms of channel gating. Multiple simulations, each of 10 ns duration, have been performed for Kir3.1 (crystal structure) and Kir6.2 (homology model), in both their monomeric and tetrameric forms. The Kir6.2 simulations were performed with and without bound ATP. The results of the simulations reveal comparable conformational stability for the crystal structure and the homology model. There is some decrease in conformational flexibility when comparing the monomers with the tetramers, corresponding mainly to the subunit interfaces in the tetramer. The beta-phosphate of ATP interacts with the side chain of K185 in the Kir6.2 model and simulations. The flexibility of the Kir6.2 tetramer is not changed greatly by the presence of bound ATP, other than in two loop regions. Principal components analysis of the simulated dynamics suggests loss of symmetry in both the Kir3.1 and Kir6.2 tetramers, consistent with "dimer-of-dimers" motion of subunits in C-terminal domains of the corresponding Kir channels. This is suggestive of a gating model in which a transition between exact tetrameric symmetry and dimer-of-dimers symmetry is associated with a change in transmembrane helix packing coupled to gating of the channel. Dimer-of-dimers motion of the C-terminal domain tetramer is also supported by coarse-grained (anisotropic network model) calculations. It is of interest that loss of exact rotational symmetry has also been suggested to play a role in gating in the bacterial Kir homolog, KirBac1.1, and in the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor channel.

Original publication




Journal article


Biophys J

Publication Date





3310 - 3320


Adenosine Triphosphate, Amino Acid Sequence, Animals, Anisotropy, Biophysics, Cell Membrane, Computer Simulation, Crystallography, X-Ray, Dimerization, G Protein-Coupled Inwardly-Rectifying Potassium Channels, Ligands, Macromolecular Substances, Mice, Models, Molecular, Molecular Conformation, Molecular Sequence Data, Phosphates, Potassium Channels, Potassium Channels, Inwardly Rectifying, Protein Binding, Protein Conformation, Protein Structure, Tertiary, Receptors, Nicotinic, Sequence Homology, Amino Acid, Time Factors