What are Channel Proteins?

This illustration shows a small substance passing through the pore of a protein channel that is embedded in the plasma membrane.
Facilitated transport moves substances down their concentration gradients. They may cross the plasma membrane with the aid of channel proteins. (credit: modification of work by Mariana Ruiz Villareal)

OpenStax Biology 2e

The integral proteins involved in facilitated transport are transport proteins, and they function as either channels for the material or carriers. In both cases, they are transmembrane proteins. Channels are specific for the transported substance. Channel proteins have hydrophilic domains exposed to the intracellular and extracellular fluids. In addition, they have a hydrophilic channel through their core that provides a hydrated opening through the membrane layers. Passage through the channel allows polar compounds to avoid the plasma membrane’s nonpolar central layer that would otherwise slow or prevent their entry into the cell. Aquaporins are channel proteins that allow water to pass through the membrane at a very high rate.

– What is a special arrangement of amino acids which embeds in the cell membrane, providing a hydrophilic passageway for water and small, polar ions?

Channel proteins are either open at all times or they are “gated,” which controls the channel’s opening. When a particular ion attaches to the channel protein it may control the opening, or other mechanisms or substances may be involved. In some tissues, sodium and chloride ions pass freely through open channels; whereas, in other tissues a gate must open to allow passage. An example of this occurs in the kidney, where there are both channel forms in different parts of the renal tubules. Cells involved in transmitting electrical impulses, such as nerve and muscle cells, have gated channels for sodium, potassium, and calcium in their membranes. Opening and closing these channels changes the relative concentrations on opposing sides of the membrane of these ions, resulting in facilitating electrical transmission along membranes (in the case of nerve cells) or in muscle contraction (in the case of muscle cells).

– What are called water channels, and are integral membrane proteins from a larger family of major intrinsic proteins that form pores in the membrane of biological cells?

Aquaporins are a diverse family of membrane proteins that are expressed predominantly in tissues in which edema and fluid imbalances are of major concern. Water movement across cell membranes is driven by osmotic and hydrostatic forces, but the speed of this process can be influenced by the presence of specific aquaporin channels. These channels are primarily water channels, although some are also permeable to small solutes. Aquaporin-4 water channels play a central role in brain water regulation in neurologic disorders. The pharmacologic modulation of the expression and activity of various aquaporins potentially could provide novel treatments for a variety of disorders, including brain edema.


Clark, M., Douglas, M., Choi, J. Biology 2e. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: https://openstax.org/details/books/biology-2e




Stimulatory Role of SPAK Signaling in the Regulation of Large Conductance Ca2+-Activated Potassium (BK) Channel Protein Expression in Kidney

SPS1-related proline/alanine-rich kinase (SPAK) plays important roles in regulating the function of numerous ion channels and transporters. With-no-lysine (WNK) kinase phosphorylates SPAK kinase to active the SPAK signaling pathway. Our previous studies indicated that WNK kinases regulate the activity of the large-conductance Ca2+-activated K+ (BK) channel and its protein expression via the ERK1/2 signaling pathway. It remains largely unknown whether SPAK kinase directly modulates the BK protein expression in kidney. In this study, we investigated the effect of SPAK on renal BK protein expression in both HEK293 cells and mouse kidney. In HEK293 cells, siRNA-mediated knockdown of SPAK expression significantly reduced BK protein expression and increased ERK1/2 phosphorylation, whereas overexpression of SPAK significantly enhanced BK expression and decreased ERK1/2 phosphorylation in a dose-dependent manner. Knockdown of ERK1/2 prevented SPAK siRNA-mediated inhibition of BK expression. Similarly, pretreatment of HEK293 cells with either the lysosomal inhibitor bafilomycin A1 or the proteasomal inhibitor MG132 reversed the inhibitory effects of SPAK knockdown on BK expression. We also found that there is no BK channel activity in PCs of CCD in SPAK KO mice using the isolated split-open tubule single-cell patching. In addition, we found that BK protein abundance in the kidney of SPAK knockout mice was significantly decreased and ERK1/2 phosphorylation was significantly enhanced. A high-potassium diet significantly increased BK protein abundance and SPAK phosphorylation levels, while reducing ERK1/2 phosphorylation levels. These findings suggest that SPAK enhances BK protein expression by reducing ERK1/2 signaling-mediated lysosomal and proteasomal degradations of the BK channel.

Keywords: BK; ERK and SPAK signaling pathway; high potassium diet; lysosomal degradation pathway; ubiquitination.


Tetrandrine Suppresses Transient Receptor Potential Cation Channel Protein 6 Overexpression- Induced Podocyte Damage via Blockage of RhoA/ROCK1 Signaling

Objective: Podocyte damage is common in many renal diseases characterized by proteinuria. Transient receptor potential cation channel protein 6 (TRPC6) plays an important role in renal function through its regulation of intracellular Ca2+ influx and RhoA/ROCK pathways. Chinese herb Stephania tetrandra, with the main active component being tetrandrine, has been used for the treatment of various kidney diseases for several years and has shown a positive effect. This study aimed at investigating the effect and mechanism of tetrandrine in podocyte damage induced by high expression of TRPC6.

Methods: Immortalized, differentiated murine podocytes, MPC5 were treated with valsartan (0-800 μM) and tetrandrine (0-40 μM) for 48 h. The maximum safe concentrations of valsartan and tetrandrine were selected using a cell viability assay. MPC5 podocytes stably expressing TRPC6 were constructed using a lentivirus packaging system, followed by treatment with valsartan, tetrandrine, and Y-27632 for 48 h and U73122 (10 μM) for 10 min. The RhoA/ROCK pathway and podocyte-specific proteins (nephrin and synaptopodin) levels were quantified. Podocyte apoptosis and intracellular Ca2+ concentration were measured.

Results: Maximum safe concentrations of 100 μM valsartan and 10 μM tetrandrine showed no observable toxicity in podocytes. MPC5 podocytes stably expressing TRPC6 had higher intracellular Ca2+ influx, apoptotic percentages, and expression of RhoA/ROCK proteins, but lower expression of nephrin and synaptopodin proteins. U73122 treatment for 10 min did not inhibit TRPC6, but suppressed RhoA/ROCK protein. Y-27632 decreased ROCK1 expression, but did not influence the expression of TRPC6 protein. Both 100 μM valsartan and 10 μM tetrandrine for 48 h significantly inhibited intracellular Ca2+ influx, apoptosis, and RhoA/ROCK pathway, and increased nephrin and synaptopodin proteins in podocytes stably expressing TRPC6.

Conclusion: Elevated TRPC6 expression can lead to podocyte injury by inducing intracellular Ca2+ influx and apoptosis of podocytes, and this effect may be mediated by activation of the RhoA/ROCK1 pathway. Tetrandrine can alleviate podocyte injury induced by TRPC6 expression through inhibition of the RhoA/ROCK pathway, suggesting a protective role in podocyte damage.

Keywords: RhoA/ROCK pathway; podocyte; tetrandrine; transient receptor potential cation channel protein 6.


A two-pore channel protein required for regulating mTORC1 activity on starvation

Background: Two-pore channels (TPCs) release Ca2+ from acidic intracellular stores and are implicated in a number of diseases, but their role in development is unclear. The social amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum proliferates as single cells that aggregate to form a multicellular organism on starvation. Starvation is sensed by the mTORC1 complex which, like TPC proteins, is found on acidic vesicles. Here, we address the role of TPCs in development and under starvation.

Results: We report that disruption of the gene encoding the single Dictyostelium TPC protein, TPC2, leads to a delay in early development and prolonged growth in culture with delayed expression of early developmental genes, although a rapid starvation-induced increase in autophagy is still apparent. Ca2+ signals induced by extracellular cAMP are delayed in developing tpc2 cells, and aggregation shows increased sensitivity to weak bases, consistent with reduced acidity of the vesicles. In mammalian cells, the mTORC1 protein kinase has been proposed to suppress TPC channel opening. Here, we show a reciprocal effect as tpc2 cells show an increased level of phosphorylation of an mTORC1 substrate, 4E-BP1. mTORC1 inhibition reverses the prolonged growth and increases the efficiency of aggregation of tpc2 cells.

Conclusion: TPC2 is required for efficient growth development transition in Dictyostelium and acts through modulation of mTORC1 activity revealing a novel mode of regulation.

Keywords: Acidic vesicles; Autophagy; Dictyostelium; Two-pore channel (TPC); mTORC1.


The effect of amantadine on an ion channel protein from Chikungunya virus

Viroporins like influenza A virus M2, hepatitis C virus p7, HIV-1 Vpu and picornavirus 2B associate with host membranes, and create hydrophilic corridors, which are critical for viral entry, replication and egress. The 6K proteins from alphaviruses are conjectured to be viroporins, essential during egress of progeny viruses from host membranes, although the analogue in Chikungunya Virus (CHIKV) remains relatively uncharacterized. Using a combination of electrophysiology, confocal and electron microscopy, and molecular dynamics simulations we show for the first time that CHIKV 6K is an ion channel forming protein that primarily associates with endoplasmic reticulum (ER) membranes. The ion channel activity of 6K can be inhibited by amantadine, an antiviral developed against the M2 protein of Influenza A virus; and CHIKV infection of cultured cells can be effectively inhibited in presence of this drug. Our study provides crucial mechanistic insights into the functionality of 6K during CHIKV-host interaction and suggests that 6K is a potential therapeutic drug target, with amantadine and its derivatives being strong candidates for further development.


Intracellular Chloride Ion Channel Protein-1 Expression in Clear Cell Renal Cell Carcinoma

Background/aim: Chloride intracellular channel 1 (CLIC1) represents a promising target for personalized therapy. Our aim was to assess CLIC1 expression in clear cell renal cell carcinoma (cc RCC) and identify its possible prognostic role.

Materials and methods: Fifty cases of cc RCC were evaluated and selected for immunohistochemistry. CLIC1 expression was correlated with tumor grade, invasion and heterogeneity.

Results: A total of 87.5% of the cases were CLIC1 positive, with either a homogeneous (31.42%) or a heterogeneous (68.57%) pattern. Low, mild and strong CLIC1 expressing tumors were defined based on nuclear (N), cytoplasmic (C), membrane (M) or combinations of them (NC, NM, CM, NCM) in terms of CLIC1 distribution. A significant correlation was found between tumor grade and percent of positive tumor cells (p=0.017). For G3 tumors, CLIC1 cytoplasmic expression was strongly correlated with high expression status (p=0.025) and tumor heterogeneity (p=0.004). CLIC1 expression was also correlated with metastasis (p=0.046).

Conclusion: We defined four cc RCC groups depending on G, CLIC1 expression and pattern: i) G3/NM/low CLIC1+, ii) G2/CM/mild CLIC1+ iii) G1 or G2/NM or CM /high CLIC1+, and iv) G2/M /high CLIC1.

Keywords: Chloride Intracellular Channel 1 (CLIC1); clear cell renal cell carcinoma (cc RCC).