A Gating Mechanism of the Serotonin 5-HT3 Receptor
Our recently solved high-resolution structure of the serotonin 5-HT3 receptor (5-HT3R) delivered the first detailed structural insights for a mammalian pentameric ligand-gated ion channel. Based on this structure, we here performed a total of 2.8-μs all-atom molecular dynamics simulations to unravel at atomic detail how neurotransmitter binding on the extracellular domain induces sequential conformational transitions in the receptor, opening an ion channel and translating a chemical signal into electrical impulses across the membrane. We found that serotonin binding first induces distinct conformational fluctuations at the side chain of W156 in the highly conserved ligand-binding cage, followed by tilting-twisting movements of the extracellular domain which couple to the transmembrane TM2 helices, opening the hydrophobic gate at L260 and forming a continuous transmembrane water pathway. The structural transitions in the receptor's transmembrane part finally couple to the intracellular MA helix bundle, opening lateral ports for ion passage.