Palmitoylation of BK channels
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Palmitoylation is a post-translational modification that has been implicated in the control of multiple proteins, including ion channels. S-Palmitoylation is a lipophilic modification that involves the attachment of palmitate through a thioester linkage to a cysteine residue in a target protein. By increasing the hydrophobicity of the target region, palmitoylation can promote membrane targeting. Here, palmitoylation is shown to play an important role in regulating large conductance calcium- and voltage- activated (BK) potassium channels. The STREX splice variant of the BK channel contains a 58 amino acid insert at the splice site C2 within the intracellular C-terminal RCK1-RCK2 linker that confers increased calcium sensitivity to the channel and determines PKA inhibition of channel activity. The cysteine rich STREX domain was predicted to be palmitoylated, and using an imaging assay STREX was shown to act as a membrane targeting domain through palmitoylation of a di-cysteine motif (C645:C645). A membrane potential assay and electrophysiological analysis demonstrates that palmitoylation at the C645:C646 site in STREX is important in mediating the increased calcium sensitive properties inherent to the STREX channel. Palmitoylation is also shown to modulate PKA channel inhibition. The stability of palmitoylation can often be reliant on the local environment within the protein. Generally in most proteins; lipidated regions, basic domains or transmembrane domains are found adjacent to a palmitoylation site. In STREX, a polybasic domain composed of 11 basic residues just upstream from the C645:C646 palmitoylation site, functions to control the palmitoylation status of the STREX insert. A site directed mutagenesis approach to disrupt the polybasic domain revealed an important role in controlling membrane targeting of the STREX C-terminus, mediating the increased calcium sensitivity inherent to STREX channels and controlling the palmitoylation status of the C645:C646 palmitoylation site using multiple techniques involving electrophysiology, fluorescent imaging and biochemical assays. Further to this, using imaging to examine the membrane association of fluorescently tagged C-terminal proteins, phosphorylation is shown to function as a physiological electrostatic switch to regulate the polybasic region in controlling palmitoylation of the STREX insert. Finally, an additional palmitoylation site that is constitutively expressed in all BK channels was identified to be located in the S0-S1 linker (C53:C54:C56). Mutation of the C53:C54:C56 palmitoylation site in the S0-S1 linker was shown to abolish all palmitoylation in BK channels that did not contain the STREX insert. Palmitoylation allows the S0-S1 linker to associate with the plasma membrane however the mutated de-palmitoylated channels did not affect channel conductance or the calcium/voltage sensitivity of the channel. Palmitoylation of the S0-S1 linker was shown to be a critical determinant of cell surface expression of BK channels, as steady state surface expression levels were reduced by ~55% in the C53:C54:C56 mutant. STREX channels that could not be palmitoylated in the S0-S1 linker also showed decreased surface expression even through STREX insert palmitoylation was unaffected. Palmitoylation is rapidly emerging as an important post-translational mechanism to control ion channel behaviour. This work reveals that palmitoylation of the BK channel can control channel function of the STREX splice variant channel and can regulate cell surface expression in all other channel variants. Palmitoylation appears to be functionally independent at these two distinct sites expressed within the same channel protein.