Voltage vs. Ligand II: Structural insights of the intrinsic flexibility in cyclic nucleotide-gated channels

In the preceding article, we present a flexibility analysis of the voltage-gated ion channel (VGIC) superfamily. In this study, we describe in detail the flexibility profile of the voltage-sensor domain (VSD) and the pore domain (PD) concerning the evolution of 6TM ion channels. In particular, we highlight the role of flexibility in the emergence of CNG channels and describe a significant level of sequence similarity between the archetypical VSD and the TolQ proteins. A highly flexible S4-like segment exhibiting Lys instead Arg for these membrane proteins is reported. Sequence analysis indicates that, in addition to this S4-like segment, TolQ proteins also show similarity with specific motifs in S2 and S3 from typical V-sensors. Notably, S3 flexibility profiles from typical VSDs and S3-like in TolQ proteins are also similar. Interestingly, TolQ from early divergent prokaryotes are comparatively more flexible than those in modern counterparts or true V-sensors. Regarding the PD, we also found that 2TM K+-channels in early prokaryotes are considerably more flexible than the ones in modern microbes, and such flexibility is comparable to the one present in CNG channels. Voltage dependence is mainly exhibited in prokaryotic CNG channels whose VSD is rigid whereas the eukaryotic CNG channels are considerably more flexible and poorly V-dependent. The implication of the flexibility present in CNG channels, their sensitivity to cyclic nucleotides and the cation selectivity are discussed. Finally, we generated a structural model of the putative cyclic nucleotide-modulated ion channel, which we coined here as AqK, from the thermophilic bacteria Aquifex aeolicus, one of the earliest diverging prokaryotes known. Overall, our analysis suggests that V-sensors in CNG-like channels were essentially rigid in early prokaryotes but raises the possibility that this module was probably part of a very flexible stator protein of the bacterial flagellum motor complex.