A hydrophobic funnel governs monovalent cation selectivity in the ion channel TRPM5

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A key capability of ion channels is the facilitation of selective permeation of certain ionic species across cellular membranes at high rates. Due to their physiological significance, ion channels are of great pharmaceutical interest as drug targets. The polymodal signal-detecting Transient Receptor Potential (TRP) superfamily of ion channels form a particularly promising group of drug targets. While most members of this family permeate a broad range of cations including Ca 2+ , TRPM4 and TRPM5 are unique due to their strong monovalent-selectivity and impermeability for divalent cations. Here, we investigated the mechanistic basis for their unique monovalent-selectivity by in silico electrophysiology simulations of TRPM5. Our simulations reveal an unusual mechanism of cation selectivity, which is underpinned by the function of the central channel cavity rather than the selectivity filter. Our results suggest that a subtle hydrophobic barrier at the cavity entrance ("hydrophobic funnel") enables monovalent, but not divalent cations to pass and occupy the cavity at physiologically relevant membrane voltages. Monovalent cations then permeate efficiently by a co-operative, distant knock-on mechanism between two binding regions in the extracellular pore vestibule and the central cavity. By contrast, divalent cations do not enter or interact favourably with the channel cavity due to its raised hydrophobicity. Hydrophilic mutations in the transition zone between the selectivity filter and the central channel cavity abolish the barrier for divalent cations, enabling both monovalent and divalent cations to traverse TRPM5.

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