Voltage Gated Ion Channels

Voltage-gated ion channel (Wiki) 
"From crystallographic structural studies of a potassium channel, assuming that this structure remains intact in the corresponding plasma membrane, it is possible to surmise that when a potential difference is introduced over the membrane, the associated electromagnetic field induces a conformational change in the potassium channel. The conformational change distorts the shape of the channel proteins sufficiently such that the cavity, or channel, opens to admit ion influx or efflux to occur across the membrane, down its electrochemical gradient. This subsequently generates an electrical current sufficient to depolarise the cell membrane.

Voltage-gated sodium channels and calcium channels are made up of a single polypeptide with four homologous domains. Each domain contains 6 membrane spanning alpha helices. One of these helices, S4, is the voltage sensing helix. It has many positive charges such that a high positive charge outside the cell repels the helix - inducing a conformational change such that ions may flow through the channel. Potassium channels function in a similar way, with the exception that they are composed of four separate polypeptide chains, each comprising one domain.

The voltage-sensitive protein domain of these channels (the "voltage sensor") generally contains a region composed of S3b and S4 helices, known as the "paddle" due to its shape, which appears to be a conserved sequence, interchangeable across a wide variety of cells and species.

Genetic engineering of the paddle region from a species of volcano-dwelling archaebacteria into rat brain potassium channels results in a fully functional ion channel, as long as the whole intact paddle is replaced.[1] This "modularity" allows use of simple and inexpensive model systems to study the function of this region, its role in disease, and pharmaceutical control of its behavior rather than being limited to poorly characterized, expensive, and/or difficult to study preparations. [2]