Intracellular zinc activates KCNQ channels by reducing their dependence on phosphatidylinositol 4,5-bisphosphate [Neuroscience]
M-type (Kv7, KCNQ) potassium channels are proteins that control the excitability of neurons and muscle cells. Many physiological and pathological mechanisms of excitation operate via the suppression of M channel activity or expression. Conversely, pharmacological augmentation of M channel activity is a recognized strategy for the treatment of hyperexcitability disorders such as pain and epilepsy. However, physiological mechanisms resulting in M channel potentiation are rare. Here we report that intracellular free zinc directly and reversibly augments the activity of recombinant and native M channels. This effect is mechanistically distinct from the known redox-dependent KCNQ channel potentiation. Interestingly, the effect of zinc cannot be attributed to a single histidine- or cysteine-containing zinc-binding site within KCNQ channels. Instead, zinc dramatically reduces KCNQ channel dependence on its obligatory physiological activator, phosphatidylinositol 4,5-bisphosphate (PIP2). We hypothesize that zinc facilitates interactions of the lipid-facing interface of a KCNQ protein with the inner leaflet of the plasma membrane in a way similar to that promoted by PIP2. Because zinc is increasingly recognized as a ubiquitous intracellular second messenger, this discovery might represent a hitherto unknown native pathway of M channel modulation and provide a fresh strategy for the design of M channel activators for therapeutic purposes.
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