Ion Channels & Membranes

We use tools including molecular dynamics simulations, free energy calculations, and structural modeling to investigate the activation, gating, and modulation of ion channels, with a special focus on the TRP channel family.

Ion channel sensing: Are fluctuations the crux of the matter?
Marina Kasimova, Aysenur Yazici, Yevgen Yudin, Daniele Granata, Michael Klein, Tibor Rohacs, and Vincenzo Carnevale
Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, 9(6), 1260-1264, 2018

The nonselective cation channel TRPV1 is responsible for transducing noxious stimuli into action potentials propagating through peripheral nerves. It is activated by temperatures greater than 43 °C, while remaining completely nonconductive at temperatures lower than this threshold. The origin of this sharp response, which makes TRPV1 a biological temperature sensor, is not understood. Here we used molecular dynamics simulations and free energy calculations to characterize the molecular determinants of the transition between nonconductive and conductive states. We found that hydration of the pore and thus ion permeation depends critically on the polar character of its molecular surface: in this narrow hydrophobic enclosure, the motion of a polar side-chain is sufficient to stabilize either the dry or wet state. The conformation of this side-chain is in turn coupled to the hydration state of four peripheral cavities, which undergo a dewetting transition at the activation temperature.

A hypothetical molecular mechanism for TRPV1 activation that invokes rotation of an S6 asparagine
Marina Kasimova, Aysenur Torun Yazici, Yevgen Yudin, Daniele Granata, Michael Klein, Tibor Rohacs, and Vincenzo Carnevale
Journal of General Physiology, 150(11), 1554-1566, 2018

The transient receptor potential channel vanilloid type 1 (TRPV1) is activated by a variety of endogenous and exogenous stimuli and is involved in nociception and body temperature regulation. Although the structure of TRPV1 has been experimentally determined in both the closed and open states, very little is known about its activation mechanism. In particular, the conformational changes that occur in the pore domain and result in ionic conduction have not yet been identified. Here we suggest a hypothetical molecular mechanism for TRPV1 activation, which involves rotation of a conserved asparagine in S6 from a position facing the S4-S5 linker toward the pore. This rotation is associated with hydration of the pore and dehydration of the four peripheral cavities located between each S6 and S4-S5 linker. In light of our hypothesis, we perform bioinformatics analyses of TRP and other evolutionary related ion channels, evaluate newly available structures, and reexamine previously reported water accessibility and mutagenesis experiments. These analyses provide several independent lines of evidence to support our hypothesis. Finally, we show that our proposed molecular mechanism is compatible with the prevailing theory that the selectivity filter acts as a secondary gate in TRPV1.

Understanding TRPV1 activation by ligands: Insights from the binding modes of capsaicin and resiniferatoxin
Khaled Elokely, Phanindra Velisetty, Lucie Delemotte, Eugene Palovcak, Michael Klein, Tibor Rohacs, and Vincenzo Carnevale
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, 113(2), E137-E145, 2015

The transient receptor potential cation channel subfamily V member 1 (TRPV1) or vanilloid receptor 1 is a nonselective cation channel that is involved in the detection and transduction of nociceptive stimuli. Inflammation and nerve damage result in the up-regulation of TRPV1 transcription, and, therefore, modulators of TRPV1 channels are potentially useful in the treatment of inflammatory and neuropathic pain. Understanding the binding modes of known ligands would significantly contribute to the success of TRPV1 modulator drug design programs. The recent cryo-electron microscopy structure of TRPV1 only provides a coarse characterization of the location of capsaicin (CAPS) and resiniferatoxin (RTX). Herein, we use the information contained in the experimental electron density maps to accurately determine the binding mode of CAPS and RTX and experimentally validate the computational results by mutagenesis. On the basis of these results, we perform a detailed analysis of TRPV1–ligand interactions, characterizing the protein ligand contacts and the role of individual water molecules. Importantly, our results provide a rational explanation and suggestion of TRPV1 ligand modifications that should improve binding affinity.

On the role of water density fluctuations in the inhibition of a proton channel
Eleonora Gianti, Lucie Delemotte, Michael Klein, and Vincenzo Carnevale
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, 113(52), E8359-E8368, 2016

Hv1 is a transmembrane four-helix bundle that transports protons in a voltage-controlled manner. Its crucial role in many pathological conditions, including cancer and ischemic brain damage, makes Hv1 a promising drug target. Starting from the recently solved crystal structure of Hv1, we used structural modeling and molecular dynamics simulations to characterize the channel’s most relevant conformations along the activation cycle. We then performed computational docking of known Hv1 inhibitors, 2-guanidinobenzimidazole (2GBI) and analogs. Although salt-bridge patterns and electrostatic potential profiles are well-defined and distinctive features of activated versus nonactivated states, the water distribution along the channel lumen is dynamic and reflects a conformational heterogeneity inherent to each state. In fact, pore waters assemble into intermittent hydrogen-bonded clusters that are replaced by the inhibitor moieties upon ligand binding. The entropic gain resulting from releasing these conformationally restrained waters to the bulk solvent is likely a major contributor to the binding free energy. Accordingly, we mapped the water density fluctuations inside the pore of the channel and identified the regions of maximum fluctuation within putative binding sites. Two sites appear as outstanding: One is the already known binding pocket of 2GBI, which is accessible to ligands from the intracellular side; the other is a site located at the exit of the proton permeation pathway. Our analysis of the waters confined in the hydrophobic cavities of Hv1 suggests a general strategy for drug discovery that can be applied to any ion channel.

Dual regulation of TRPV1 channels by phosphatidylinositol via functionally distinct binding sites
Aysenur Torun Yazici, Eleonora Gianti, Marina Kasimova, Bo-Hyun Lee, Vincenzo Carnevale, and Tibor Rohacs
Journal of Biological Chemistry, 100573, 2021

Regulation of the heat- and capsaicin-activated Transient Receptor Potential Vanilloid 1 (TRPV1) channel by phosphoinositides is complex and controversial. In the most recent TRPV1 cryo-EM structure, endogenous phosphatidylinositol (PtdIns) was detected in the vanilloid binding site, and phosphoinositides were proposed to act as competitive vanilloid antagonists. This model is difficult to reconcile with phosphatidylinositol 4,5-bisphosphate [PtdIns(4,5)P2] being a well-established positive regulator of TRPV1. Here we show that in the presence of PtdIns(4,5)P2 in excised patches, PtdIns, but not PtdIns(4)P, partially inhibited TRPV1 activity at low, but not at high capsaicin concentrations. This is consistent with PtdIns acting as a competitive vanilloid antagonist. However, in the absence of PtdIns(4,5)P2, PtdIns partially stimulated TRPV1 activity. We computationally identified residues, which are in contact with PtdIns, but not with capsaicin in the vanilloid binding site. The I703A mutant of TRPV1 showed increased sensitivity to capsaicin, as expected when removing the effect of an endogenous competitive antagonist. I703A was not inhibited by PtdIns in the presence of PtdIns(4,5)P2, but it was still activated by PtdIns in the absence of PtdIns(4,5)P2 indicating that inhibition, but not activation by PtdIns proceeds via the vanilloid binding site. In molecular dynamics simulations PtdIns was more stable than PtdIns(4,5)P2 in the inhibitory site, while PtdIns(4,5)P2 was more stable than PtdIns in a previously identified, non-overlapping, putative activating binding site. Our data indicate that phosphoinositides regulate channel activity via functionally distinct binding sites, which may explain some of the complexities of the effects of these lipids on TRPV1.

Free energy landscape of ion-channel voltage-sensor-domain activation
Lucie Delemotte, Marina Kasimova, Michael Klein, Mounir Tarek, and Vincenzo Carnevale
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, 112(1), 124-129, 2014

Voltage-gated cation channels (VGCCs) shape cellular excitability. Their working cycle involves the complex conformational change of modular protein units called voltage sensor domains (VSDs). For over 40 years, these rearrangements have been recorded as “gating” currents, the intensities and kinetics of which are unique signatures of VGCC function. We show that the atomistic description of VSD activation obtained by molecular dynamics simulations and free-energy calculations is consistent with the phenomenological models adopted to account for the macroscopic observables measured by electrophysiology. Our findings pave the way for in silico studies of the VGCC electrophysiological response and hold promise to uncover the molecular underpinnings of inherited channelopathies and modulation of VGCCs by drugs and toxins.

Polyamine blockade and binding energetics in the MthK potassium channel
Antonio Suma, Daniele Granata, Andrew Thomson, Vincenzo Carnevale, and Brad Rothberg
Journal of General Physiology, 152(7), e201912527, 2020

Polyamines such as spermidine and spermine are found in nearly all cells, at concentrations ranging up to 0.5 mM. These cations are endogenous regulators of cellular K+ efflux, binding tightly in the pores of inwardly rectifying K+ (Kir) channels in a voltage-dependent manner. Although the voltage dependence of Kir channel polyamine blockade is thought to arise at least partially from the energetically coupled movements of polyamine and K+ ions through the pore, the nature of physical interactions between these molecules is unclear. Here we analyze the polyamine-blocking mechanism in the model K+ channel MthK, using a combination of electrophysiology and computation. Spermidine (SPD3+) and spermine (SPM4+) each blocked current through MthK channels in a voltage-dependent manner, and blockade by these polyamines was described by a three-state kinetic scheme over a wide range of polyamine concentrations. In the context of the scheme, both SPD3+ and SPM4+ access a blocking site with similar effective gating valences (0.84 ± 0.03 e0 for SPD3+ and 0.99 ± 0.04 e0 for SPM4+), whereas SPM4+ binds in the blocked state with an ∼20-fold higher affinity than SPD3+ (Kd = 28.1 ± 3.1 µM for SPD3+ and 1.28 ± 0.20 µM for SPM4+), consistent with a free energy difference of 1.8 kcal/mol. Molecular simulations of the MthK pore in complex with either SPD3+ or SPM4+ are consistent with the leading amine interacting with the hydroxyl groups of T59, at the selectivity filter threshold, with access to this site governed by outward movement of K+ ions. These coupled movements can account for a large fraction of the voltage dependence of blockade. In contrast, differences in binding energetics between SPD3+ and SPM4+ may arise from distinct electrostatic interactions between the polyamines and carboxylate oxygens on the side chains of E92 and E96, located in the pore-lining helix.

Evolutionarily conserved interactions within the pore domain of acid-sensing ion channels
Marina Kasimova, Timothy Lynagh, Zeshan Pervez Sheikh, Daniele Granata, Christian Bernsen Borg, Vincenzo Carnevale, and Stephan Alexander Pless
Biophysical Journal, 118(4), 861-872, 2020

Despite the sequence homology between acid-sensing ion channels (ASICs) and epithelial sodium channel (ENaCs), these channel families display very different functional characteristics. Whereas ASICs are gated by protons and show a relatively low degree of selectivity for sodium over potassium, ENaCs are constitutively active and display a remarkably high degree of sodium selectivity. To decipher if some of the functional diversity originates from differences within the transmembrane helices (M1 and M2) of both channel families, we turned to a combination of computational and functional interrogations, using statistical coupling analysis and mutational studies on mouse ASIC1a. The coupling analysis suggests that the relative position of M1 and M2 in the upper part of the pore domain is likely to remain constant during the ASIC gating cycle, whereas they may undergo relative movements in the lower part. Interestingly, our data suggest that to account for coupled residue pairs being in close structural proximity, both domain-swapped and nondomain-swapped ASIC M2 conformations need to be considered. Such conformational flexibility is consistent with structural work, which suggested that the lower part of M2 can adopt both domain-swapped and nondomain-swapped conformations. Overall, mutations to residues in the middle and lower pore were more likely to affect gating and/or ion selectivity than those in the upper pore. Indeed, disrupting the putative interaction between a highly conserved Trp/Glu residue pair in the lower pore is detrimental to gating and selectivity, although this interaction might occur in both domain-swapped and nonswapped conformations. Finally, our results suggest that the greater number of larger, aromatic side chains in the ENaC M2 helix may contribute to the constitutive activity of these channels at a resting pH. Together, the data highlight differences in the transmembrane domains of these closely related ion channels that may help explain some of their distinct functional properties.

TRPA1 modulation by piperidine carboxamides suggests an evolutionarily conserved binding site and gating mechanism
Tania Chernov-Rogan, Eleonora Gianti, Chang Liu, Elisia Villemure, Andrew Cridland, Xiaoyu Hu, Elisa Ballini, Wienke Lange, Heike Deisemann, Tianbo Li, Stuart Ward, David Hackos, Steven Magnuson, Brian Safina, Michael Klein, Matthew Volgraf, Vincenzo Carnevale, and Jun Chen
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, 116(51), 26008-26019, 2019

The transient receptor potential ankyrin 1 (TRPA1) channel functions as an irritant sensor and is a therapeutic target for treating pain, itch, and respiratory diseases. As a ligand-gated channel, TRPA1 can be activated by electrophilic compounds such as allyl isothiocyanate (AITC) through covalent modification or activated by noncovalent agonists through ligand binding. However, how covalent modification leads to channel opening and, importantly, how noncovalent binding activates TRPA1 are not well-understood. Here we report a class of piperidine carboxamides (PIPCs) as potent, noncovalent agonists of human TRPA1. Based on their species-specific effects on human and rat channels, we identified residues critical for channel activation; we then generated binding modes for TRPA1–PIPC interactions using structural modeling, molecular docking, and mutational analysis. We show that PIPCs bind to a hydrophobic site located at the interface of the pore helix 1 (PH1) and S5 and S6 transmembrane segments. Interestingly, this binding site overlaps with that of known allosteric modulators, such as A-967079 and propofol. Similar binding sites, involving π-helix rearrangements on S6, have been recently reported for other TRP channels, suggesting an evolutionarily conserved mechanism. Finally, we show that for PIPC analogs, predictions from computational modeling are consistent with experimental structure–activity studies, thereby suggesting strategies for rational drug design.