Determination of what is the specificity of subunits composing a protein complex is essential when studying gene variants on human pathophysiology. The pore-forming α-subunit KCNQ1, which belongs to the voltage-gated ion channel superfamily, associates to its β-auxiliary subunit KCNE1 to generate the slow cardiac potassium IKs current, whose dysfunction leads to cardiac arrhythmia. Using pharmacology, gene invalidation, and single-molecule fluorescence assays, we found that KCNE1 fulfils all criteria of a bona fide auxiliary subunit of the TMEM16A chloride channel, which belongs to the anoctamin superfamily. Strikingly, assembly with KCNE1 switches TMEM16A from a calcium-dependent to a voltage-dependent ion channel. Importantly, clinically relevant inherited mutations within the TMEM16A-regulating domain of KCNE1 abolish the TMEM16A modulation, suggesting that the TMEM16A-KCNE1 current may contribute to inherited pathologies. Altogether, these findings challenge the dogma of the specificity of auxiliary subunits regarding protein complexes and questions ion channel classification.
- ancillary subunits
- potassium channel
- protein complexes
- proximal convoluted tubule cells
- single molecule fluorescence
- voltage-dependent ion channels