The role of S4 charges in voltage-dependent and voltage-independent KCNQ1 potassium channel complexes.
Voltage-gated potassium (Kv) channels extend their functional repertoire by coassembling with MinK-related peptides (MiRPs). MinK slows the activation of channels formed with KCNQ1 alpha subunits to generate the voltage-dependent I(Ks) channel in human heart; MiRP1 and MiRP2 remove the voltage dependence of KCNQ1 to generate potassium "leak" currents in gastrointestinal epithelia. Other Kv alpha subunits interact with MiRP1 and MiRP2 but without loss of voltage dependence; the mechanism for this disparity is unknown. Here, sequence alignments revealed that the voltage-sensing S4 domain of KCNQ1 bears lower net charge (+3) than that of any other eukaryotic voltage-gated ion channel. We therefore examined the role of KCNQ1 S4 charges in channel activation using alanine-scanning mutagenesis and two-electrode voltage clamp. Alanine replacement of R231, at the N-terminal side of S4, produced constitutive activation in homomeric KCNQ1 channels, a phenomenon not observed with previous single amino acid substitutions in S4 of other channels. Homomeric KCNQ4 channels were also made constitutively active by mutagenesis to mimic the S4 charge balance of R231A-KCNQ1. Loss of single S4 charges at positions R231 or R237 produced constitutively active MinK-KCNQ1 channels and increased the constitutively active component of MiRP2-KCNQ1 currents. Charge addition to the CO2H-terminal half of S4 eliminated constitutive activation in MiRP2-KCNQ1 channels, whereas removal of homologous charges from KCNQ4 S4 produced constitutively active MiRP2-KCNQ4 channels. The results demonstrate that the unique S4 charge paucity of KCNQ1 facilitates its unique conversion to a leak channel by ancillary subunits such as MiRP2.