Indexed on: 30 Apr '10Published on: 30 Apr '10Published in: American journal of physiology. Cell physiology
Acid-sensing ion channels (ASICs) are proton-activated sodium channels of the nervous system. Mammals express four ASICs, and orthologs of these genes have been found in all chordates examined to date. Despite a high degree of sequence conservation of all ASICs across species, the response to a given increase in external proton concentration varies markedly: from large and slowly inactivating inward currents to no detectable currents. The underlying bases of this functional variability and whether it stems from differences in proton-binding sites or in structures that translate conformational changes have not been determined yet. We show here that the ASIC1 ortholog of an early vertebrate, lamprey ASIC1, does not respond to protons; however, only two amino acid substitutions for the corresponding ones in rat ASIC1, Q77L and T85L, convert lamprey ASIC1 into a highly sensitive proton-activated channel with apparent H(+) affinity of pH(50) 7.2. Addition of C73H increases the magnitude of the currents by fivefold, and W64R confers desensitization similar to that of the mammalian counterpart. Most amino acid substitutions in these four positions increase the rates of opening and closing the pore, whereas only few, namely, the ones in rat ASIC1, slow the rates. The four residues are located in a contiguous segment made by the beta1-beta2-linker, beta1-strand, and the external segment of the first transmembrane helix. We conclude that the segment thus defined modulates the kinetics of opening and closing the pore and that fast kinetics of desensitization rather than lack of acid sensor accounts for the absence of proton-induced currents in the parent lamprey ASIC1.