Li Q, Wanderling S, Paduch M, Medovoy D, Singharoy A, McGreevy R, Villalba-Galea CA, Hulse RE, Roux B, Schulten K, Kossiakoff A, Perozo E
Nat. Struct. Mol. Biol. 2014 Mar;21(3):244-52
The transduction of transmembrane electric fields into protein motion has an essential role in the generation and propagation of cellular signals. Voltage-sensing domains (VSDs) carry out these functions through reorientations of positive charges in the S4 helix. Here, we determined crystal structures of the Ciona intestinalis VSD (Ci-VSD) in putatively active and resting conformations. S4 undergoes an ~5-Å displacement along its main axis, accompanied by an ~60° rotation. This movement is stabilized by an exchange in countercharge partners in helices S1 and S3 that generates an estimated net charge transfer of ~1 eo. Gating charges move relative to a ”hydrophobic gasket’ that electrically divides intra- and extracellular compartments. EPR spectroscopy confirms the limited nature of S4 movement in a membrane environment. These results provide an explicit mechanism for voltage sensing and set the basis for electromechanical coupling in voltage-dependent enzymes and ion channels.