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REVIEW: Structural Insights into Excitation-Contraction Coupling by Electron Cryomicroscopy

I. I. Serysheva

Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics, National Center for Macromolecular Imaging, Verna and Marrs McLean Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Baylor College of Medicine, One Baylor Plaza, Houston, TX 77030, USA; fax: (713) 798-3456; E-mail: irinas@bcm.tmc.edu

Received August 2, 2004
In muscle, excitation-contraction coupling is defined as the process linking depolarization of the surface membrane with Ca2+ release from cytoplasmic stores, which activates contraction of striated muscle. This process is primarily controlled by interplay between two Ca2+ channels--the voltage-gated L-type Ca2+ channel (dihydropyridine receptor, DHPR) localized in the t-tubule membrane and the Ca2+-release channel (ryanodine receptor, RyR) of the sarcoplasmic reticulum membrane. The structures of both channels have been extensively studied by several groups using electron cryomicroscopy and single particle reconstruction techniques. The structures of RyR, determined at resolutions of 22-30 Å, reveal a characteristic mushroom shape with a bulky cytoplasmic region and the membrane-spanning stem. While the cytoplasmic region exhibits a complex structure comprising a multitude of distinctive domains with numerous intervening cavities, at this resolution no definitive statement can be made about the location of the actual pore within the transmembrane region. Conformational changes associated with functional transitions of the Ca2+ release channel from closed to open states have been characterized. Further experiments determined localization of binding sites for various channel ligands. The structural studies of the DHPR are less developed. Although four 3D maps of the DHPR were reported recently at 24-30 Å resolution from studies of frozen-hydrated and negatively stained receptors, there are some discrepancies between reported structures with respect to the overall appearance and dimensions of the channel structure. Future structural studies at higher resolution are needed to refine the structures of both channels and to substantiate a proposed molecular model for their interaction.
KEY WORDS: excitation-contraction coupling, ryanodine receptor, voltage-gated L-type Ca2+ channel, electron cryomicroscopy, single particle reconstruction