Acid-sensing ion channels (ASICs) are neuronal Na+ channels that are activated by a drop in pH. Their established physiological and pathological roles, involving fear behaviors, learning, pain sensation and neurodegeneration after stroke, make them promising targets for future drugs. Currently, the ASIC activation mechanism is not understood. Here we used voltage-clamp fluorometry (VCF) combined with fluorophore-quencher pairing to determine the kinetics and direction of movements. Molecular dynamics simulations were used to further evaluate VCF-predicted movements. We show that conformational changes with the speed of channel activation occur close to the gate and in more distant extracellular sites, where they may be driven by local protonation events. Further, we provide evidence for fast conformational changes in a pathway linking protonation sites to the channel pore, in which an extracellular interdomain loop interacts via aromatic residue interactions with the upper end of a transmembrane helix and would thereby open the gate.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience