It has been reported earlier that the slow (C-type) inactivated conformation in Kv channels is stabilized by a multipoint hydrogen-bond network behind the selectivity filter. Furthermore, MD simulations revealed that structural water molecules are also involved in the formation of this network locking the selectivity filter in its inactive conformation. We found that the application of an extracellular, but not intracellular, solution based on heavy water (D2O) dramatically slowed entry into the slow inactivated state in Shaker-IR mutants (T449A, T449A/I470A, and T449K/I470C, displaying a wide range of inactivation kinetics), consistent with the proposed effect of the dynamics of structural water molecules on the conformational stability of the selectivity filter. Alternative hypotheses capable of explaining the observed effects of D2O were examined. Increased viscosity of the external solution mimicked by the addition of glycerol had a negligible effect on the rate of inactivation. In addition, the inactivation time constants of K+ currents in the outward and the inward directions in asymmetric solutions were not affected by a H2O/D2O exchange, negating an indirect effect of D2O on the rate of K+ rehydration. The elimination of the nonspecific effects of D2O on our macroscopic current measurements supports the hypothesis that the rate of structural water exchange at the region behind the selectivity filter determines the rate of slow inactivation, as proposed by molecular modeling.

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