Hot Topics: Cryo-EM structure of a selective T-type calcium channel blocker bound to the Cav3.1 voltage-gated calcium channel

Nieng Yan’s group has now published the cryo-EM structure of the selective T-type Ca2+ channel blocker Z944 bound to the pore-forming α1-subunit of Cav3.1 T-type Ca2+ channels (1). This nicely adds to recent publications reporting of the high-resolution structures of L-type Ca2+ channel blockers (nifedipine, nimodipine, amlodipine, verapamil, diltiazem) bound to the rabbit Cav1.1 skeletal muscle Ca2+ channel (2) and to the model Ca2+ channel CavAb (Ca2+-selectivity engineered into the bacterial homotetrameric Na+-channel NavAb; 3, 4).

Together these three publications provide important insight into how small molecule channel blockers interact with their high affinity binding domains within Ca2+ channels. They also reveal a remarkable similarity between the core structures (i.e. the voltage-sensors and the pore domains) between not only the closely related Cav1.1 and Cav3.1 channels but also their bacterial ancestor CavAb.

Moreover, although some differences exist, the binding poses of L-type Ca2+ channel blockers in the mammalian Cav1.1 and the bacterial CavAb channel are very similar. In both structures verapamil and diltiazem bind within the central cavity, compatible with their pore-blocking properties predicted in functional studies. In contrast, dihydropyridines like nimodipine and nifedipine bind within a fenestration created by adjacent transmembrane S6 helices (IIIS6 and IVS6). These fenestrations penetrate the sides of the central cavities in both voltage gated Na+– and Ca2+ channels and connect them to the surrounding lipid bilayer of the plasma membrane (5). In accordance with functional studies, these dihydropyridines must therefore inhibit L-type channels by allosterically interfering with gating rather than pore block.

These findings raise the important question about how Z944 can selectively inhibit T-type Ca2+ channels. This drug is currently in clinical development for the treatment of epilepsy and neuropathic pain. It appears that Z944 bound to Cav3.1 combines the binding modes of both pore blockers and allosteric blockers. Its phenyl ring projects into the fenestration between repeats II and III (similar to nifedipine binding), whereas the other end of the molecule projects down through the central cavity to the intracellular mouth of the pore. A prominent interaction was found with lysine-1462, a residue unique for T-type channels. Its mutation to L-type residues reduced drug sensitivity in functional studies suggesting that it is one of the determinants for T-type selectivity.

Taken together the accumulating structural insight into drug binding and modulation will greatly facilitate structure-guided drug discovery. This may lead to new oral subtype-selective blockers of voltage-gated Ca2+ channels with therapeutic potential for the treatment of epilepsy (T-type), pain (T-type, N-type), tremor (T-type), primary aldosteronism (Cav1.3 L-type), progression of Parkinsons disease (Cav1.3, R-type) or rare neurodevelopmental disorders (Cav1.3 L-type) (6,7).

Comments by Jörg Striessnig, University of Innsbruck, Chair for NC-IUPHAR Subcommitee for Voltage-gated calcium channels, Liaison for NC-IUPHAR subcommittees on Voltage-gated ion channels

  1. Zhao, Y., Huang, G., Wu, Q., Wu, K., Li, R., Lei, J., Pan, X., and Yan, N. (2019). Cryo-EM structures of apo and antagonist-bound human Cav3.1. Nature. 576, 492–497 [PMID: 31766050].
  2. Zhao, Y., Huang, G., Wu, J., Wu, Q., Gao, S., Yan, Z., Lei, J., and Yan, N. (2019). Molecular Basis for Ligand Modulation of a Mammalian Voltage-Gated Ca2+ Cell 177, 1495-1506 [PMID: 31150622].
  3. Tang, L., El-Din, T.M.G., Swanson, T.M., Pryde, D.C., Scheuer, T., Zheng, N., and Catterall, W.A. (2016). Structural basis for inhibition of a voltage-gated Ca2+ channel by Ca2+ antagonist drugs. Nature 537, 117–121 [PMID: 27556947].
  4. Tang, L., Gamal El-Din, T.M., Lenaeus, M.J., Zheng, N., and Catterall, W.A. (2019). Structural Basis for Diltiazem Block of a Voltage-Gated Ca2+ Mol. Pharmacol. 96, 485–492 [PMID: 31391290].
  5. Payandeh, J., Scheuer, T., Zheng, N., Catterall, W.A., 2011. The crystal structure of a voltage-gated sodium channel. Nature 475, 353–358 [PMID: 21743477].
  6. Pinggera, A., and Striessnig, J. (2016). Cav 1.3 (CACNA1D) L-type Ca2+ channel dysfunction in CNS disorders. J. Physiol. (Lond.) 594, 5839–5849.
  7. Benkert, J., Hess, S., Roy, S., Beccano-Kelly, D., Wiederspohn, N., Duda, J., Simons, C., Patil, K., Gaifullina, A., Mannal, N., et al. (2019). Cav2.3 channels contribute to dopaminergic neuron loss in a model of Parkinson’s disease. Nat. Commun. 10, 5094. doi:10.1038/s41467-019-12834-x
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