Here we explore the mechanism and associated structure-function implications of loss of function for epithelial Na+ channel (ENaC) containing a pseudohypoaldosteronism type 1 (PHA-1)-causing missense point mutation. As expected, human ENaC that contained subunits harboring PHA-1-causing substitutions within an absolutely conserved, cytosolic Gly residue (e.g., βG37S) had significantly less activity. Unexpectedly, though, such substitution also results in voltage sensitivity with greater activity at hyperpolarizing potentials. This is a consequence of voltage-dependent changes in the single-channel open probability and is not species-or subunit-dependent. Voltage sensitivity in PHA-1 mutants stems from the disruption of critical structure, rather than the development of new properties resulting from the introduction of novel side chains. Residues near the conserved His-Gly sequence of G95 in α-mENaC are particularly important for voltage sensing. Although substitution of I93 in α-mENaC results in voltage sensing, it also slows the activation and deactivation kinetics enough to enable capture of the dynamic changes in single-channel open probability that account for changes in macroscopic activity. This provides definitive proof of the mechanism that underlies loss of function. In addition, the voltage dependence of ENaC with PHA-1 substitutions is akin to that which results from substitution of a critical, interfacial Trp residue conserved at the intracellular base of TM1 (e.g., W112 in α-mENaC). Dynamic interactions between similarly positioned His and Trp residues are essential for gating and the girdle-like structure that lines the intracellular mouth of the M2 proton channel. The similar residues in ENaC may serve a shared function, suggesting the possibility of an intracellular girdle just below the mouth of the ENaC pore.
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