The ATP-sensitive potassium (KATP) channel plays a key role in controlling β-cell membrane potential and insulin secretion. The channels are composed of two subunits, Kir6.2, which forms the channel pore, and SUR1, which contains binding sites for nucleotides and sulphonylureas and acts as a channel regulator. Our current studies are aimed at delineating the molecular interactions involved in assembly and ligand binding by KATP channel proteins. We have employed a complementation approach in which SUR1 half-molecules are co-expressed in insect cells using a baculovirus system. Together with data from truncated SUR1 molecules and a fusion protein in which SUR1 is linked to Kir6.2, we have interpreted our findings in terms of a model for the structure of the KATP channel. The main features of the model are: (i) the C-terminal end of SUR1 is close to the N-terminus of Kir6.2; (ii) the two nucleotide binding domains (NBDs) of SUR1 -NBD1 and NBD2 - are in proximity; (iii) transmembrane helix 12 of SUR1 is orientated in such a way that it can make contact with Kir6.2; (iv) formation of the glibenclamide binding site requires that the two cytosolic loops (CLs) CL3 and CL8 are located close to each other; (v) there are homomeric interactions between the NBD1 domains of neighbouring subunits. We suggest that binding of glibenclamide leads to conformational changes in CL3 and CL8 leading to rearrangement of transmembrane helices. These effects are transmitted to Kir6.2 to result in channel closure.

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