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Acid-sensing ion channels (ASICs) are a class of trimeric cation-selective ion channels activated by changes in pH within the physiological range. They are widely expressed in the central and peripheral nervous systems where they participate in a range of physiological and pathophysiological situations such as learning and memory, pain sensation, fear and anxiety, substance abuse and cell death. ASICs are localized to cell bodies and dendrites, including the postsynaptic density, and within the last 5 years several examples of proton-evoked ASIC excitatory postsynaptic currents have emerged. Thus, ASICs have become bona fide neurotransmitter-gated ion channels, activated by the smallest neurotransmitter possible: protons. Here we review how protons are thought to drive the conformational changes associated with ASIC activation and desensitization. In particular, we weigh the evidence for and against the so-called 'acidic pocket' being a vital proton sensor and discuss the emerging role of the β11-12 linker as a desensitization switch or 'molecular clutch'. We also examine how proton-induced conformational changes pose unique challenges to classical molecular dynamics simulations, as well as some possible solutions. Given the emergence of new methodologies and structures, the coming years will probably see many advances in the study of acid-sensing ion channels. © 2020 The Authors. The Journal of Physiology © 2020 The Physiological Society.


Matthew L Rook, Maria Musgaard, David M MacLean. Coupling structure with function in acid-sensing ion channels: challenges in pursuit of proton sensors. The Journal of physiology. 2021 Jan;599(2):417-430

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PMID: 32306405

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