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Potassium channels selectively conduct K+ ions across cell membranes and have key roles in cell excitability. Their opening and closing can be spontaneous or controlled by membrane voltage or ligand binding. We used Ba2+ as a probe to determine the location of the ligand-sensitive gate in an inwardly rectifying K+ channel (Kir6.2). To a K+ channel, Ba2+ and K+ are of similar sizes, but Ba2+ blocks the pore by binding within the selectivity filter. We found that internal Ba2+ could still access its binding site when the channel was shut, which indicates that the ligand-sensitive gate lies above the Ba2+-block site, and thus within or above the selectivity filter. This is in marked contrast to the voltage-dependent gate of KV channels, which is located at the intracellular mouth of the pore.

Original publication




Journal article


EMBO Reports

Publication Date





70 - 75