Reaction of diphtheria toxin channels with sulfhydryl-specific reagents: Observation of chemical reactions at the single molecule level

Joseph A. Mindell, Hangjun Zhan, Paul D. Huynh, R. John Collier, Alan Finkelstein

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The diphtheria toxin channel is believed to be a homooligomer of its T domain in which each subunit consists of two α-helices, lying within the membrane, connected by a short interhelical loop of four amino acids (residues 349-352). To investigate the validity and implications of this model, we singly mutated each of these amino acids to cysteines, formed channels with the mutant T-domain proteins in planar lipid bilayers, and added to the trans compartment sulfhydryl-specific reagents [methanethiosulfonate derivatives (MTS-ER)] that introduce a positive or negative charge to reacted cysteines. The introduction of a positive charge at residue 351 or 352 (through the MTS-ER reactions) resulted in a step decrease in single-channel conductance, whereas the introduction of a negative charge resulted in a step increase. The opposite sign of these effects indicates the predominantly electrostatic nature of the phenomenon and implies that residues 351 and 352 lie close to the channel entrance. The same reactions at residue 350 resulted in very little change in channel conductance but instead changed the character of the natural rapid flickering of the channel between open and closed states to one in which the channel spent more time in the closed state; this may have resulted from the group introduced at position 350 acting as a tethered channel blocker. The MTS derivatives had no effect on channels containing a cysteine at position 349, suggesting that this residue faces away from the channel entrance. We propose that the step changes in conductance or flickering pattern result from the chemical reaction of one MTS-ER molecule with one cysteine, and thus a bimolecular chemical reaction is being witnessed at the single molecule level. From the distribution of waiting times between the appearance (i.e., the opening) of a channel and the step change in its conductance or flickering pattern, we can calculate a pseudo-first-order rate constant, which can then be converted to a second-order rate constant, for the chemical reaction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5272-5276
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number12
StatePublished - Jun 7 1994
Externally publishedYes

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