Location of a high affinity Zn2+ binding site in the channel of α1β1 γ-aminobutyric acid(A) receptors

Jeffrey Horenstein, Myles H. Akabas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

82 Scopus citations


Zn2+ inhibits currents through γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA)(A) receptors. Its affinity depends on the subunit composition; α1β1 receptors are inhibited with high affinity (IC50 = 0.54 μM). We sought to identify the residues that form this high affinity Zn2+ binding site. β1His267 aligns with α1Ser272, a residue near the extracellular end of the M2 membrane-spanning segment that we previously demonstrated to be exposed in the channel. The Zn2+ affinity of α1β1 H267S was reduced by 300-fold (IC50 = 161 μM). Addition of a histidine at the aligned position in α1 creates a receptor, α1S272Hβ1, that should have five channel-lining histidines; the Zn2+ affinity was increased 20-fold (IC50 = 0.025 μM). Shifting the position of the histidine from the β1 subunit to the aligned position in α1 with the two mutants α1S272Hβ1H267S reduced the affinity (IC50 = 26 μM) compared with wild-type. We infer that the high affinity Zn2+ binding site involves β1His267 from at least two subunits. For two histidines to interact with a Zn2+ ion, the a carbons must be separated by <13 Å. This limits the separation of the subunits and provides a constraint on the possible quaternary structures of the channel. The ability of a divalent cation to penetrate from the extracellular end of the channel to β1His267 implies that the charge-selectivity filter, the structure that discriminates between anions and cations, is located at a more cytoplasmic position than β1His267; this is consistent with our previous work that showed that positively charged sulfhydryl-specific reagents reacted with an engineered cysteine residue as cytoplasmic as α1T261C.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)870-877
Number of pages8
JournalMolecular Pharmacology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1998
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Pharmacology


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