Structural basis of the partially open central gate in the human CNGA1/CNGB1 channel explained by additional density for calmodulin in cryo-EM map
The recently reported structure of the human CNGA1/CNGB1 CNG channel in the open state (Xue et al., 2021a) shows that one CNGA1 and one CNGB1 subunit do not open the central hydrophobic gate completely upon cGMP binding. This is different from what has been reported for CNGA homomeric channels (Xue et al., 2021b; Zheng et al., 2020). In seeking to understand how this difference is due to the presence of the CNGB1 subunit, we find that the deposited density map (Xue et al., 2021a) (EMDB 24465) contains an additional density not reported in the images of the original publication. This additional density fits well the structure of calmodulin (CaM), and it unambiguously connects the newly identified D-helix of CNGB1 to one of the CNGA1 helices (A1R) participating in the coiled-coil region. Interestingly, the CNGA1 subunit that engages in the interaction with this additional density is the one that, together with CNGB1, does not open completely the central gate. The sequence of the D-helix of CNGB1 contains a known CaM-binding site of exquisitely high affinity - named CaM2 (Weitz et al., 1998) -, and thus the presence of CaM in that region is not surprising. The mechanism through which CaM reduces currents across the membrane by acting on the native channel (Bauer, 1996; Hsu and Molday, 1993; Weitz et al., 1998) remains unclear. We suggest that the presence of CaM may explain the partially open central gate reported by Xue et al. (2021a). The structure of the open and closed states of the CNGA1/CNGB1 channel may be different with and without CaM present.