Previous studies on the interaction between the inactivating peptide of the Shaker B K+ channel (ShB peptide, H2N-MAAVAGLYGLGEDRQHRKKQ) and anionic phospholipid vesicles, used as model targets, have shown that the ShB peptide: (i) binds to the vesicle surface with high affinity; (ii) readily adopts a strongly hydrogen-bonded β-structure; and (iii) becomes inserted into the hydrophobic bilayer. We now report fluorescence studies showing that the vesicle-inserted ShB peptide is in a monomeric form and, therefore, the observed β-structure must be intramolecularly hydrogen-bonded to produce a β-hairpin conformation. Also, additional freeze–fracture and accessibility-to-trypsin studies, which aimed to estimate how deeply and in which orientation the folded monomeric peptide inserts into the model target, have allowed us to build structural models for the target-inserted peptide. In such models, the peptide has been folded near G6 to configure a long β-hairpin modelled to produce an internal cancellation of net charges in the stretch comprising amino acids 1–16. As to the positively charged C-terminal portion of the ShB peptide (RKKQ), this has been modelled to be in parallel with the anionic membrane surface to facilitate electrostatic interactions. Since the negatively charged surface and the hydrophobic domains in the model vesicle target may partly imitate those present at the inactivation ‘entrance ’ in the channel protein [Kukuljan, M., Labarca, P. and Latorre, R. (1995) Am. J. Physiol. Cell Physiol. 268, C535–C556], we believe that the structural models postulated here for the vesicle-inserted peptide could help to understand how the ShB peptide associates with the channel during inactivation and why mutations at specific sites in the ShB peptide sequence, such as that in the ShB-L7E peptide, result in non-inactivating peptide variants.

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