Theses Doctoral

Characterization of cardiac IKs channel gating using voltage clamp fluorometry

Osteen, Jeremiah Dane

Voltage-gated ion channels make up a superfamily of membrane proteins involved in selectively or non-selectively conducting charged ions, which can carry current in and out of cells, in response to changes in membrane voltage. Currents carried by ion channels influence the voltage across the cell membrane, which can trigger changes in the conductance of neighboring voltage-gated channels. In this way, signals, measured as transient changes in voltage called action potentials, can be sent through and between cells in order to transmit information quickly and efficiently throughout excitable systems. My thesis work focuses on elucidating the mechanisms underlying the voltage-dependent gating of a member of the voltage gated potassium (Kv) channel family, KCNQ1 (Kv7.1). Like other members of the voltage gated potassium family, the KCNQ1 channel is made up of four subunits, each containing a voltage sensing domain and a pore-forming domain. Tetrameric channels form with a single central pore domain, and four structurally independent voltage sensing domains. KCNQ1 plays roles both in maintenance of the membrane potential (it forms a leak current in epithelial cells throughout the body) as well as a very important role in resting membrane potential reestablishment (it forms a slowly activating current important in action potential repolarization in cardiac cells). In order to serve these varied functions, KCNQ1 displays uniquely flexible gating properties among Kv channels. Evidence of this flexibility is found in the observation that the presence or absence of various beta subunits can cause the channel to be non-conducting, slowly activating with a large conductance, quickly activating with a small conductance, or constitutively active. My thesis project has been to unravel the mechanisms underlying these very different phenotypes, focusing on the role of the voltage sensor and its coupling to the channel gate. Most of this work focuses on the role of KCNQ1 in the heart, where it comprises the alpha subunit of the slowly activating delayed rectifier current, IKs. This current plays a major role in repolarization of the cardiac action potential, evidenced in part by its major role in shortening the action potential in the face sympathetic stimulation, which leads to phosphorylation-induced increase in IKs current. Further evidence for the importance of IKs to proper cardiac function is found through the identification of many mutations to IKs that result in cardiac arrhythmia, most notably Long QT syndrome, which results from loss of IKs current and an associated prolongation of the cardiac action potential. In addition, gain-of-function IKs mutations have been implicated in Short QT Syndrome and an inherited form of atrial fibrillation. In order to understand mechanisms underlying the physiological and pathophysiological functions of IKs, a more complete picture of its structure and function are needed. One major goal in the pursuit of a more complete characterization of IKs is to understand the interaction between the IKs alpha subunit, KCNQ1 and its modulatory subunit KCNE1, which has been shown to profoundly affect the gating of the KCNQ1 channel. Among the effects of KCNE1 co-expression are a slowing of channel activation, a slowing of deactivation, a depolarizing shift in the voltage dependence over which the channel activates and an increase in conductance through the KCNQ1 channel pore. To this point, a complete structural and functional basis for these myriad biophysical alterations has not been established. In order to better understand the gating of KCNQ1, this work develops a voltage sensor assay, voltage clamp fluorometry, to measure movements of the voltage sensor and explore changes to the voltage sensor induced by KCNE1 and disease-causing mutations. Chapter 1 validates this technique using mutagenesis to ensure the assay reports on voltage sensor movement. A preliminary characterization of voltage-dependent gating in homomeric KCNQ1 channels reveals an unexpected relationship between voltage sensor movement and channel opening. Chapter 1 then looks at the effect of KCNE1 on voltage sensor movement and coupling to the channel gate, finding both to be significantly altered in the presence of this beta subunit. Returning to the homomeric KCNQ1 channel, Chapter 2 further probes its gating and develops a model based on the prediction that KCNQ1 voltage sensors act as allosteric regulators of the channel gate. This scheme can make predictions about what gating processes are affected by permutations such as KCNE1 co-expression and the presence of disease-associated mutations. Finally, Chapter 3 explores the effects of two atrial fibrillation associated mutations on KCNQ1 gating using electrophysiology, biochemistry, and VCF. Through these results, this work provides novel insight into structures and interactions that are important for gating in both physiological and pathophysiological states.



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More About This Work

Academic Units
Cellular, Molecular, Structural, and Genetic Studies
Thesis Advisors
Kass, Robert S.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
January 27, 2012