Charge-voltage curves of many voltage-gated ion channels exhibit hysteresis but such curves are also a direct measure of free energy of channel gating and, hence, should be path-independent. Here, we identify conditions to measure steady-state charge-voltage curves and show that these are curves are not hysteretic. Charged residues in transmembrane segments of voltage-gated ion channels (VGICs) sense and respond to changes in the electric field. The movement of these gating charges underpins voltage-dependent activation and is also a direct metric of the net free-energy of channel activation. However, for most voltage-gated ion channels, the charge-voltage (Q-V) curves appear to be dependent on initial conditions. For instance, Q-V curves of Shaker potassium channel obtained by hyperpolarizing from 0 mV is left-shifted compared to those obtained by depolarizing from a holding potential of −80 mV. This hysteresis in Q-V curves is a common feature of channels in the VGIC superfamily and raises profound questions about channel energetics because the net free-energy of channel gating is a state function and should be path independent. Due to technical limitations, conventional gating current protocols are limited to test pulse durations of <500 ms, which raises the possibility that the dependence of Q-V on initial conditions reflects a lack of equilibration. Others have suggested that the hysteresis is fundamental thermodynamic property of voltage-gated ion channels and reflects energy dissipation due to measurements under non-equilibrium conditions inherent to rapid voltage jumps (Villalba-Galea. 2017. Channels. https://doi.org/10.1080/19336950.2016.1243190). Using an improved gating current and voltage-clamp fluorometry protocols, we show that the gating hysteresis arising from different initial conditions in Shaker potassium channel is eliminated with ultra-long (18–25 s) test pulses. Our study identifies a modified gating current recording protocol to obtain steady-state Q-V curves of a voltage-gated ion channel. Above all, these findings demonstrate that the gating hysteresis in Shaker channel is a kinetic phenomenon rather than a true thermodynamic property of the channel and the charge-voltage curve is a true measure of the net-free energy of channel gating.

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