Potassium channels are highly selective for K+ over the smaller Na+. Intriguingly, they are permeable to larger monovalent cations such as Rb+ and Cs+ but are specifically blocked by the similarly sized Ba2+. In this study, we used structural analysis to determine the binding profiles for these permeant and blocking ions in the selectivity filter of the potassium-selective NaK channel mutant NaK2K and also performed permeation experiments using singlechannel recordings. Our data revealed that some ion binding properties of NaK2K are distinct from those of the canonical K+ channels KcsA and MthK. Rb+ bound at sites 1, 3, and 4 in NaK2K, as it does in KcsA. Cs+, however, bound predominantly at sites 1 and 3 in NaK2K, whereas it binds at sites 1, 3, and 4 in KcsA. Moreover, Ba2+ binding in NaK2K was distinct from that which has been observed in KcsA and MthK, even though all of these channels show similar Ba2+ block. In the presence of K+, Ba2+ bound to the NaK2K channel at site 3 in conjunction with a K+ at site 1; this led to a prolonged block of the channel (the external K+-dependent Ba2+ lock-in state). In the absence of K+, however, Ba2+ acts as a permeating blocker. We found that, under these conditions, Ba2+ bound at sites 1 or 0 as well as site 3, allowing it to enter the filter from the intracellular side and exit from the extracellular side. The difference in the Ba2+ binding profile in the presence and absence of K+ thus provides a structural explanation for the short and prolonged Ba2+ block observed in NaK2K.
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