Large-conductance Ca2+- and voltage-activated K+ (BK) channels have the largest conductance (250-300 pS) of all K+-selective channels. Yet, the contributions of the various parts of the ion conduction pathway to the conductance are not known. Here, we examine the contribution of the entrance to the inner cavity to the large conductance. Residues at E321/E324 on each of the four α subunits encircle the entrance to the inner cavity. To determine if 321/324 is accessible from the inner conduction pathway, we measured single-channel current amplitudes before and after exposure and wash of thiol reagents to the intracellular side of E321C and E324C channels. MPA- increased currents and MTSET+ decreased currents, with no difference between positions 321 and 324, indicating that side chains at 321/324 are accessible from the inner conduction pathway and have equivalent effects on conductance. For neutral amino acids, decreasing the size of the entrance to the inner cavity by substituting large sidechain amino acids at 321/324 decreased outward single-channel conductance, whereas increasing the size of the entrance with smaller side-chain substitutions had little effect. Reductions in outward conductance were negated by high [K+]i. Substitutions had little effect on inward conductance. Fitting plots of conductance versus side-chain volume with a model consisting of one variable and one fixed resistor in series indicated an effective diameter and length of the entrance to the inner cavity for wild-type channels of 17.7 and 5.6 Å, respectively, with the resistance of the entrance ~7% of the total resistance of the conduction pathway. The estimated dimensions are consistent with the structure of MthK, an archaeal homologue to BK channels. Our observations suggest that BK channels have a low resistance, large entrance to the inner cavity, with the entrance being as large as necessary to not limit current, but not much larger.
ASJC Scopus subject areas