The VDAC channel of the mitochondrial outer membrane is voltage-gated like the larger, more complex voltage-gated channels of the plasma membrane. However, VDAC is a low molecular weight (30 kDa), abundant protein, which is readily purified and reconstituted, making it an ideal system for analyzing the molecular basis for ion selectivity and voltage-gating. We have probed the VDAC channel by subjecting the cloned yeast (S. cerevisiae) VDAC gene to site-directed mutagenesis and introducing the resulting mutant channels into planar bilayers to detect the effects of specific sequence changes on channel properties. This approach has allowed us to formulate and test a model of the open state structure of the VDAC channel. Now we have applied the same approach to analyzing the structure of the channel's low-conducting "closed state" (essentially closed to important metabolites). We have identified protein domains forming the wall of the closed conformation and domains that seem to be removed from the wall of the pore during channel closure. The latter can explain the reduction in pore diameter and volume and the dramatically altered channel selectivity resulting from the channel closure. This process would make a natural coupling between motion of the sensor and channel gating.
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