Cholesterol is the major sterol component of all mammalian plasma membranes. Recent studies have shown that cholesterol inhibits both bacterial (KirBac1.1 and KirBac3.1) and eukaryotic (Kir2.1) inward rectifier K+ (Kir) channels. Lipid-sterol interactions are not enantioselective, and the enantiomer of cholesterol (ent-cholesterol) does not inhibit Kir channel activity, suggesting that inhibition results from direct enantiospecific binding to the channel, and not indirect effects of changes to the bilayer. Furthermore, conservation of the effect of cholesterol among prokaryotic and eukaryotic Kir channels suggests an evolutionary conserved cholesterol-binding pocket, which we aimed to identify. Computational experiments were performed by docking cholesterol to the atomic structures of Kir2.2 (PDB: 3SPI) and KirBac1.1 (PDB: 2WLL) using Autodock 4.2. Poses were assessed to ensure biologically relevant orientation and then clustered according to location and orientation. The stability of cholesterol in each of these poses was then confirmed by molecular dynamics simulations. Finally, mutation of key residues (S95H and I171L) in this putative binding pocket found within the transmembrane domain of Kir2.1 channels were shown to lead to a loss of inhibition by cholesterol. Together, these data provide support for this location as a biologically relevant pocket.
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