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Several inwardly-rectifying (Kir) potassium channels (Kir1.1, Kir4.1 and Kir4.2) are characterised by their sensitivity to inhibition by intracellular H(+) within the physiological range. The mechanism by which these channels are regulated by intracellular pH has been the subject of intense scrutiny for over a decade, yet the molecular identity of the titratable pH-sensor remains elusive. In this study we have taken advantage of the acidic intracellular environment of S. cerevisiae and used a K(+) -auxotrophic strain to screen for mutants of Kir1.1 with impaired pH-sensitivity. In addition to the previously identified K80M mutation, this unbiased screening approach identified a novel mutation (S172T) in the second transmembrane domain (TM2) that also produces a marked reduction in pH-sensitivity through destabilization of the closed-state. However, despite this extensive mutagenic approach, no mutations could be identified which removed channel pH-sensitivity or which were likely to act as a separate H(+) -sensor unique to the pH-sensitive Kir channels. In order to explain these results we propose a model in which the pH-sensing mechanism is part of an intrinsic gating mechanism common to all Kir channels, not just the pH-sensitive Kir channels. In this model, mutations which disrupt this pH-sensor would result in an increase, not reduction, in pH-sensitivity. This has major implications for any future studies of Kir channel pH-sensitivity and explains why formal identification of these pH-sensing residues still represents a major challenge.

Original publication




Journal article


Channels (Austin, Tex.)

Publication Date





390 - 397