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KcsA is a bacterial K+ channel that is gated by pH. Continuum dielectric calculations on the crystal structure of the channel protein embedded in a low dielectric slab suggest that side chains E71 and D80 of each subunit, which lie adjacent to the selectivity filter region of the channel, form a proton-sharing pair in which E71 is neutral (protonated) and D80 is negatively charged at pH 7. When K+ ions are introduced into the system at their crystallographic positions the pattern of proton sharing is altered. The largest perturbation is for a K+ ion at site S3, i.e., interacting with the carbonyls of T75 and V76. The presence of multiple K+ ions in the filter increases the probability of E71 being ionized and of D80 remaining neutral (i.e., protonated). The ionization states of the protein side chains influence the potential energy profile experienced by a K+ ion as it is translated along the pore axis. In particular, the ionization state of the E71-D80 proton-sharing pair modulates the shape of the potential profile in the vicinity of the selectivity filter. Such reciprocal effects of ion occupancy on side-chain ionization states, and of side-chain ionization states on ion potential energy profiles will complicate molecular dynamics simulations and related studies designed to calculate ion permeation energetics.

Original publication




Journal article


Biophys J

Publication Date





1210 - 1219


Bacterial Proteins, Crystallography, X-Ray, Kinetics, Models, Molecular, Potassium, Potassium Channels, Protein Structure, Secondary, Protein Subunits, Static Electricity