Acid-sensing ion channels (ASICs) are sensitized to activation by inflammatory mediators such as the polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) arachidonic acid (AA). Previous work has shown that AA can potentiate ASIC currents at subsaturating proton concentrations, but the structural mechanisms of this change in gating are not understood. Here we show that PUFAs cause multiple gating changes in ASIC3, including shifting the pH dependence of activation, slowing the rate of desensitization, and increasing the current even at a saturating pH. The impact on gating depends on the nature of both the head and tail of the lipid, with the head group structure primarily determining the magnitude of the effect on the channel. An N-acyl amino acid (NAAA), arachidonyl glycine (AG), is such a strong regulator that it can act as a ligand at neutral pH. Mutation of an arginine in the outer segment of TM1 (R64) eliminated the effect of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) even at high concentrations, suggesting a potential interaction site for the lipid on the channel. Our results suggest a model in which PUFAs bind to ASICs via both their tail group and an electrostatic interaction between the negatively charged PUFA head group and the positively charged arginine side chain. These data provide the first look at the structural features of lipids that are important for modulating ASICs and suggest a potential binding site for PUFAs on the channel.

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