A uniquely adaptable pore is consistent with NALCN being an ion sensor

Senatore A, Spafford JD

Channels (Austin) 2013 Mar-Apr;7(2):60-8

PMID: 23442378


NALCN is an intriguing, orphan ion channel among the 4x6TM family of related voltage-gated cation channels, sharing a common architecture of four homologous domains consisting of six transmembrane helices, separated by three cytoplasmic linkers and delimited by N and C-terminal ends. NALCN is one of the shortest 4x6TM family members, lacking much of the variation that provides the diverse palate of gating features, and tissue specific adaptations of sodium and calcium channels. NALCN’s most distinctive feature is that that it possesses a highly adaptable pore with a calcium-like EEEE selectivity filter in radially symmetrical animals and a more sodium-like EEKE or EKEE selectivity filter in bilaterally symmetrical animals including vertebrates. Two lineages of animals evolved alternative calcium-like EEEE and sodium-like EEKE / EKEE pores, spliced to regulate NALCN functions in differing cellular environments, such as muscle (heart and skeletal) and secretory tissue (brain and glands), respectively. A highly adaptable pore in an otherwise conserved ion channel in the 4x6TM channel family is not consistent with a role for NALCN in directly gating a significant ion conductance that can be either sodium ions or calcium ions. NALCN was proposed to be an expressible Gd ( 3+) -sensitive, NMDG (+) -impermeant, non-selective and ohmic leak conductance in HEK-293T cells, but we were unable to distinguish these reported currents from leaky patch currents (ILP) in control HEK-293T cells. We suggest that NALCN functions as a sensor for the much larger UNC80/UNC79 complex, in a manner consistent with the coupling mechanism known for other weakly or non-conducting 4x6TM channel sensor proteins such as Nax or Cav 1.1. We propose that NALCN serves as a variable sensor that responds to calcium or sodium ion flux, depending on whether the total cellular current density is generated more from calcium-selective or sodium-selective channels.

Cav3 T-type channels: regulators for gating, membrane expression, and cation selectivity

Senatore A, Guan W, Spafford JD

Pflugers Arch. 2014 Apr;466(4):645-60

PMID: 24515291


Cav3 T-type channels are low-voltage-gated channels with rapid kinetics that are classified among the calcium-selective Cav1 and Cav2 type channels. Here, we outline the fundamental and unique regulators of T-type channels. An ubiquitous and proximally located “gating brake” works in concert with the voltage-sensor domain and S6 alpha-helical segment from domain II to set the canonical low-threshold and transient gating features of T-type channels. Gene splicing of optional exon 25c (and/or exon 26) in the short III-IV linker provides a developmental switch between modes of activity, such as activating in response to membrane depolarization, to channels requiring hyperpolarization input before being available to activate. Downstream of the gating brake in the I-II linker is a key region for regulating channel expression where alternative splicing patterns correlate with functional diversity of spike patterns, pacemaking rate (especially in the heart), stage of development, and animal size. A small but persistent window conductance depolarizes cells and boosts excitability at rest. T-type channels possess an ion selectivity that can resemble not only the calcium ion exclusive Cav1 and Cav2 channels but also the sodium ion selectivity of Nav1 sodium channels too. Alternative splicing in the extracellular turret of domain II generates highly sodium-permeable channels, which contribute to low-threshold sodium spikes. Cav3 channels are more ubiquitous among multicellular animals and more widespread in tissues than the more brain centric Nav1 sodium channels in invertebrates. Highly sodium-permeant Cav3 channels can functionally replace Nav1 channels in species where they are lacking, such as in Caenorhabditis elegans.

PKC-induced intracellular trafficking of Ca(V)2 precedes its rapid recruitment to the plasma membrane

Zhang Y, Helm JS, Senatore A, Spafford JD, Kaczmarek LK, Jonas EA

J. Neurosci. 2008 Mar;28(10):2601-12

PMID: 18322103


Activation of protein kinase C (PKC) potentiates secretion in Aplysia peptidergic neurons, in part by inducing new sites for peptide release at growth cone terminals. The mechanisms by which ion channels are trafficked to such sites are, however, not well understood. We now show that PKC activation rapidly recruits new Ca(V)2 subunits to the plasma membrane, and that recruitment is blocked by latrunculin B, an inhibitor of actin polymerization. In contrast, inhibition of microtubule polymerization selectively prevents the appearance of Ca(V)2 subunits only at the distal edge of the growth cone. In resting neurons, Ca(V)2-containing organelles reside in the central region of growth cones, but are absent from distal lamellipodia. After activation of PKC, these organelles are transported on microtubules to the lamellipodium. The ability to traffic to the most distal sites of channel insertion inside the lamellipodium does, therefore, not require intact actin but requires intact microtubules. Only after activation of PKC do Ca(V)2 channels associate with actin and undergo insertion into the plasma membrane.