The ion-conducting IKs channel complex, important in cardiac repolarization and arrhythmias, comprises tetramers of KCNQ1 α-subunits along with 1–4 KCNE1 accessory subunits and calmodulin regulatory molecules. The E160R mutation in individual KCNQ1 subunits was used to prevent activation of voltage sensors and allow direct determination of transition rate data from complexes opening with a fixed number of 1, 2, or 4 activatable voltage sensors. Markov models were used to test the suitability of sequential versus allosteric models of IKs activation by comparing simulations with experimental steady-state and transient activation kinetics, voltage-sensor fluorescence from channels with two or four activatable domains, and limiting slope currents at negative potentials. Sequential Hodgkin–Huxley-type models approximately describe IKs currents but cannot explain an activation delay in channels with only one activatable subunit or the hyperpolarizing shift in the conductance–voltage relationship with more activatable voltage sensors. Incorporating two voltage sensor activation steps in sequential models and a concerted step in opening via rates derived from fluorescence measurements improves models but does not resolve fundamental differences with experimental data. Limiting slope current data that show the opening of channels at negative potentials and very low open probability are better simulated using allosteric models of activation with one transition per voltage sensor, which implies that movement of all four sensors is not required for IKs conductance. Tiered allosteric models with two activating transitions per voltage sensor can fully account for IKs current and fluorescence activation kinetics in constructs with different numbers of activatable voltage sensors.

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