Voltage-gated K+ channels share a common voltage sensor domain (VSD) consisting of four transmembrane helices, including a highly mobile S4 helix that contains the major gating charges. Activation of ether-a-go-go (EAG) family K+ channels is sensitive to external divalent cations. We show here that divalent cations slow the activation rate of two EAG family channels (Kv12.1 and Kv10.2) by forming a bridge between a residue in the S4 helix and acidic residues in S2. Histidine 328 in the S4 of Kv12.1 favors binding of Zn2+ and Cd2+, whereas the homologous residue Serine 321 in Kv10.2 contributes to effects of Mg2+ and Ni2+. This novel finding provides structural constraints for the position of transmembrane VSD helices in closed, ion-bound EAG family channels. Homology models of Kv12.1 and Kv10.2 VSD structures based on a closed-state model of the Shaker family K+ channel Kv1.2 match these constraints. Our results suggest close conformational conservation between closed EAG and Shaker family channels, despite large differences in voltage sensitivity, activation rates, and activation thresholds.
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