For ion channels, the transmembrane potential plays a critical role by acting as a driving force for permeant ions. At the microscopic level, the transmembrane potential is thought to decay nonlinearly across the ion permeation pathway because of the irregular three-dimensional shape of the channel's pore. By taking advantage of the current structural and functional understanding of cyclic nucleotide-gated channels, in this study we experimentally explore the transmembrane potential's distribution across the open pore. As a readout for the voltage drop, we engineered cysteine residues along the selectivity filter and scanned the sensitivity of their modification rates by Ag+ to the transmembrane potential. The experimental data, which indicate that the majority of the electric field drops across the selectivity filter, are in good agreement with continuum electrostatic calculations using a homology model of an open CNG channel. By focusing the transmembrane potential across the selectivity filter, the electromotive driving force is coupled with the movement of permeant ions in the filter, maximizing the efficiency of this process.
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