The Ether-a-go-go (EAG) superfamily of voltage-gated K+ channels consists of three functionally distinct gene families (Eag, Elk, and Erg) encoding a diverse set of low-threshold K+ currents that regulate excitability in neurons and muscle. Previous studies indicate that external acidification inhibits activation of three EAG superfamily K+ channels, Kv10.1 (Eag1), Kv11.1 (Erg1), and Kv12.1 (Elk1). We show here that Kv10.2, Kv12.2, and Kv12.3 are similarly inhibited by external protons, suggesting that high sensitivity to physiological pH changes is a general property of EAG superfamily channels. External acidification depolarizes the conductance-voltage (GV) curves of these channels, reducing low threshold activation. We explored the mechanism of this high pH sensitivity in Kv12.1, Kv10.2, and Kv11.1. We first examined the role of acidic voltage sensor residues that mediate divalent cation block of voltage activation in EAG superfamily channels because protons reduce the sensitivity of Kv12.1 to Zn2+. Low pH similarly reduces Mg2+ sensitivity of Kv10.1, and we found that the pH sensitivity of Kv11.1 was greatly attenuated at 1 mM Ca2+. Individual neutralizations of a pair of EAG-specific acidic residues that have previously been implicated in divalent block of diverse EAG superfamily channels greatly reduced the pH response in Kv12.1, Kv10.2, and Kv11.1. Our results therefore suggest a common mechanism for pH-sensitive voltage activation in EAG superfamily channels. The EAG-specific acidic residues may form the proton-binding site or alternatively are required to hold the voltage sensor in a pH-sensitive conformation. The high pH sensitivity of EAG superfamily channels suggests that they could contribute to pH-sensitive K+ currents observed in vivo.
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