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Our understanding of the mammalian inwardly rectifying family of K+ channels (Kir family) has recently been advanced by X-ray crystal structures of two homologous prokaryotic orthologs (KirBac1.1 and KirBac3.1). However, the functional properties of these KirBac channels are still poorly understood. To address this problem, we cloned and characterized genes encoding KirBac orthologs from a wide variety of different prokaryotes and a simple unicellular eukaryote. The functional properties of these KirBacs were then examined by growth complementation in a K+ uptake-deficient strain of Escherichia coli (TK2420). Whereas some KirBac genes exhibited robust growth complementation, others either did not complement or showed temperature-dependent complementation including KirBac1.1 and KirBac3.1. In some cases, KirBac expression was also toxic to the growth of E. coli. The KirBac family exhibited a range of sensitivity to the K+ channel blockers Ba2+ and Cs+ as well as differences in their ability to grow on very low-K+ media, thus demonstrating major differences in their permeation properties. These results reveal the existence of a functionally diverse superfamily of microbial KirBac genes and present an excellent resource for the structural and functional analysis of this class of K+ channels. Furthermore, the complementation assay used in this study provides a simple and robust method for the functional characterization of a range of prokaryotic K+ channels that are difficult to study by traditional methods.

Original publication




Journal article


Physiol Genomics

Publication Date





1 - 7


Bacterial Proteins, Barium, Cloning, Molecular, Databases, Genetic, Escherichia coli, Genetic Complementation Test, Potassium, Potassium Channels, Potassium Channels, Inwardly Rectifying, Temperature, Transformation, Bacterial