Ion channels in control of pancreatic stellate cell migration
Potassium channels play a key role in establishing the cell membrane potential and are expressed ubiquitously. Today, more than 70 mammalian K(+) channel genes are known. The diversity of K(+) channels is further increased by the fact that different K(+) channel family members may assemble to form heterotetramers. We present a method based on fluorescence microscopy to determine the subunit composition of a tetrameric K(+) channel. We generated artificial "heteromers" of the K(+) channel hK(Ca)3.1 by coexpressing two differently tagged hK(Ca)3.1 constructs containing either an extracellular hemagglutinin (HA) or an intracellular V5 epitope. hK(Ca)3.1 channel subunits were detected in the plasma membrane of MDCK-F cells or HEK293 cells by labeling the extra- and intracellular epitopes with differently colored quantum dots (QDs). As previously shown for the extracellular part of hK(Ca)3.1 channels, its intracellular domain can also bind only one QD label at a time. When both channel subunits were coexpressed, 27.5 ± 1.8% and 24.9 ± 2.1% were homotetramers consisting of HA- and V5-tagged subunits, respectively. 47.6 ± 3.2% of the channels were heteromeric and composed of both subunits. The frequency distribution of HA- and V5-tagged homo- and heteromeric hK(Ca)3.1 channels is reminiscent of the binomial distribution (a + b)(2) = a(2) + 2ab + b(2). Along these lines, our findings are consistent with the notion that hK(Ca)3.1 channels are assembled from two homomeric dimers and not randomly from four independent subunits. We anticipate that our technique will be applicable to other heteromeric membrane proteins, too.