The peptide strategy was employed to resolve structure-function relationships in the voltage-dependent sodium channel. Two families of motifs were studied: the four voltage sensors S4 extended with the short cytoplasmic linkers L45 and the four P-regions, between S5 and S6, each from the homologous domains of the electric eel sodium channel. Macroscopic conductance experiments conducted with synthetic S4L45s in neutral lipid planar bilayers pointed to a moderate voltage-sensitivity for repeat IV which has no proline, whereas S4L45 of repeats I and II (Pro 19) and especially of repeat III (Pro 14) were much more voltage-sensitive. The influence both of Pro and its position within the sequence was confirmed by comparing the human skeletal muscle channel isoform D4/S4 wild-type and the R4P analogue. Circular dichroism spectroscopy shows highest and lowest helicities for repeats IV and III. The conformational transition (from helix to extended, mainly beta forms), which occurs when the solvent dielectric constant increases, was broader with repeat III. These structural and functional correlates suggest alternative gating mechanisms. The different contributions of each repeat also have effects at the level of the main selectivity filter, which suggests self-recognition between the four P-regions is a key component of intact sodium channel selectivity. In addition, the P-region from domain III is significantly voltage-sensitive and molecular dynamics simulations show that the C-terminal part of P-regions is mainly helical whilst the N-terminus tends to unfold. Such specializations of the four domains both in gating and selectivity are independently confirmed in recent electrophysiological studies.

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