Channels without canonical voltage sensors can be modulated by voltage acting on other domains. Here we show that besides protein dipoles, pore hydration can be affected by electric fields. In patches, both WT MscL and its V23T mutant show a decrease in the tension midpoint with hyperpolarization. The mutant exhibits a stronger parabolic dependence of transition energy on voltage, highly consistent with the favourable dielectric contribution from water filling the expanding pore. Purified V23T MscL in DPhPC droplet interface bilayers shows a similar voltage dependence. When reconstituted in an asymmetric DOPhPC/DPhPC bilayer carrying a permanent bias of ~130 mV due to a dipole potential difference between the interfaces, the channel behaved as if the local intramembrane electric field sets the tension threshold for gating rather than just the externally applied voltage. The data emphasize the roles of polarized water in the pore and interfacial lipid dipoles in channel gating thermodynamics.
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