Ligand-Coupled Conformational Changes in a Cyclic Nucleotide-Gated Ion Channel Revealed by Time-Resolved Transition Metal Ion FRET

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Cyclic nucleotide-binding domain (CNBD) ion channels play crucial roles in cellular-signaling and excitability and are regulated by the direct binding of cyclic adenosine- or guanosine-monophosphate (cAMP, cGMP). However, the precise allosteric mechanism governing channel activation upon ligand binding, particularly the energetic changes within domains, remains poorly understood. The prokaryotic CNBD channel SthK offers a valuable model for investigating this allosteric mechanism. In this study, we investigated the conformational dynamics and energetics of the SthK C-terminal region using a combination of steady-state and time-resolved transition metal ion Förster resonance energy transfer (tmFRET) experiments. We engineered donor-acceptor pairs at specific sites within a SthK C-terminal fragment by incorporating a fluorescent noncanonical amino acid donor and metal ion acceptors. Measuring tmFRET with fluorescence lifetimes, we determined intramolecular distance distributions in the absence and presence of cAMP or cGMP. The probability distributions between conformational states without and with ligand were used to calculate the changes in free energy (ΔG) and differences in free energy change (ΔΔG) in the context of a simple four-state model. Our findings reveal that cAMP binding produces large structural changes, with a very favorable ΔΔG. In contrast to cAMP, cGMP behaved as a partial agonist and only weakly promoted the active state. Furthermore, we assessed the impact of protein oligomerization and ionic strength on the structure and energetics of the conformational states. This study demonstrates the effectiveness of time-resolved tmFRET in determining the conformational states and the ligand-dependent energetics of the SthK C-terminal region.

Significance Statement

Allosteric regulation is pivotal for the function of most proteins, especially ion channels like the cyclic nucleotide-binding domain (CNBD) channels. This study examines the allosteric mechanism of ligand binding in the C-terminal region of the prokaryotic CNBD ion channel SthK using steady-state and time-resolved tmFRET. We uncovered significant structural and energetic changes induced by ligand binding with the full-agonist cAMP and the weak partial agonist cGMP. Our approach also highlights the effectiveness of using fluorescence lifetimes to reveal conformational heterogeneity and free energy changes in proteins. These findings deepen our understanding of CNBD channel activation overall and lay the groundwork for a more comprehensive characterization of the effects of mutations and pharmacological agents in these channels.

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