The Journal of physiology

Function of the M1 π-helix in endplate receptor activation and desensitization.

PMID 25929452


A conserved proline in M1 causes a kink between α and π helical segments. The kink is under greater tension in the resting versus active conformation. The kink and the agonist do not interact directly. The π-helix separates the gating functions of the extracellular and transmembrane domains. Mutations of the conserved proline and propofol increase desensitization. Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (AChRs) switch on/off to generate transient membrane currents (C↔O; closed-open 'gating') and enter/recover from long-lived, refractory states (O↔D; 'desensitization'). The M1 transmembrane helix of the muscle endplate AChR is linked to a β-strand of the extracellular domain that extends to a neurotransmitter binding site. We used electrophysiology to measure the effects of mutations of amino acids that are located at a proline kink in M1 that separates π and α helices, in both α (N217, V218 and P221) and non-α subunits. In related receptors, the kink is straighter and more stable in O vs. C structures (gating is 'spring-loaded'). None of the AChR kink mutations had a measureable effect on agonist affinity but many influenced the allosteric gating constant substantially. Side chains in the M1 α-helix experience extraordinarily large energy differences between C and O structures, probably because of a ∼2 Å displacement and tilt of M2 relative to M1. There is a discrete break in the character of the gating transition state between αN217 and αV218, indicating that the π-helix is a border between extracellular- and transmembrane-domain function. Mutations of the conserved M1 proline, and the anaesthetic propofol, increase a rate constant for desensitization. The results suggest that straightening of the M1 proline kink triggers AChR desensitization.