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Allosteric modulators of pentameric ligand-gated ion channels are thought to act on elements of the pathways that couple agonist binding to channel gating. Using α4β2 nicotinic acetylcholine receptors and the α4β2-selective positive modulators 17β-estradiol (βEST) and desformylflustrabromine (dFBr), we have identified pathways that link the binding sites for these modulators to the Cys loop, a region that is critical for channel gating in all pentameric ligand-gated ion channels. Previous studies have shown that the binding site for potentiating βEST is in the C-terminal (post-M4) region of the α4 subunit. Here, using homology modeling in combination with mutagenesis and electrophysiology, we identified the binding site for potentiating dFBr on the top half of a cavity between the third (M3) and fourth transmembrane (M4) α-helices of the α4 subunit. We found that the binding sites for βEST and dFBr communicate with the Cys loop, through interactions between the last residue of post-M4 and Phe170 of the conserved FPF sequence of the Cys loop, and that these interactions affect potentiating efficacy. In addition, interactions between a residue in M3 (Tyr309) and Phe167, a residue adjacent to the Cys loop FPF motif, also affect dFBr potentiating efficacy. Thus, the Cys loop acts as a key control element in the allosteric transduction pathway for potentiating βEST and dFBr. Overall, we propose that positive allosteric modulators that bind the M3-M4 cavity or post-M4 region increase the efficacy of channel gating through interactions with the Cys loop.

Original publication




Journal article


J Biol Chem

Publication Date





551 - 562


C-terminal domain (carboxyl tail domain, CTD), Cys-loop receptor, nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChR), signal transduction, transmembrane domain, Allosteric Regulation, Animals, Estradiol, Humans, Protein Domains, Protein Structure, Secondary, Receptors, Nicotinic, Xenopus laevis