Bipolar Switching by HCN Voltage Sensor Underlies Hyperpolarization Activation

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Despite sharing a common architecture with archetypal voltage-gated ion channels (VGIC), the hyperpolarization- and cyclic AMP-activated ion (HCN) channels open upon hyperpolarization rather than depolarization. The basic motions of voltage sensor and pore gates are conserved implying that these domains are inversely coupled in HCN channels. Using structure-guided protein engineering, we systematically assembled an array of mosaic channels that display the full complement of voltage-activation phenotypes observed in the VGIC superfamily. Our studies reveal that the voltage-sensing S3b-S4 transmembrane segment of the HCN channel has an intrinsic ability to drive pore opening in either direction. Specific contacts at the pore-voltage sensor interface and unique interactions near the pore gate forces the HCN channel into a hERG-like inactivated state, thereby obscuring their opening upon depolarization. Our findings reveal an unexpected common principle underpinning voltage gating in the VGIC superfamily and identify the essential determinants of gating polarity.

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