Modulation of K+ channel N-type inactivation by sulfhydration through hydrogen sulfide and polysulfides

  • Kefan Yang
  • Ina Coburger
  • Johanna M. Langner
  • Nicole Peter
  • Toshinori Hoshi
  • Roland Schönherr
  • Stefan H. HeinemannEmail author
Ion channels, receptors and transporters
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Ion channels, receptors and transporters


Fast N-type inactivation of voltage-gated K+ (Kv) channels is important in fine-tuning of cellular excitability. To serve diverse cellular needs, N-type inactivation is regulated by numerous mechanisms. Here, we address how reactive sulfur species—the gaseous messenger H2S and polysulfides—affect N-type inactivation of the mammalian Kv channels Kv1.4 and Kv3.4. In both channels, the H2S donor NaHS slowed down inactivation with varying potency depending on the “aging” of NaHS solution. Polysulfides were > 1000 times more effective than NaHS with the potency increasing with the number of sulfur atoms (Na2S2 < Na2S3 < Na2S4). In Kv1.4, C13 in the N-terminal ball domain mediates the slowing of inactivation. In recombinant protein exposed to NaHS or Na2S4, a sulfur atom is incorporated at C13 in the protein. In Kv3.4, the N terminus harbors two cysteine residues (C6, C24), and C6 is of primary importance for channel regulation by H2S and polysulfides, with a minor contribution from C24. To fully eliminate the dependence of N-type inactivation on sulfhydration, both cysteine residues must be removed (C6S:C24S). Sulfhydration of a single cysteine residue in the ball-and-chain domain modulates the speed of inactivation but does not remove it entirely. In both Kv1.4 and Kv3.4, polysulfides affected the N-terminal cysteine residues when assayed in the whole-cell configuration; on-cell recordings confirmed that polysulfides also modulate K+ channel inactivation with undisturbed cytosol. These findings have collectively identified reactive sulfur species as potent modulators of N-type inactivation in mammalian Kv channels.


Hydrogen sulfide Sulfhydration K+ channel inactivation KcnaKcncReactive sulfur species 



action potential


dorsal root ganglion




hydrogen sulfide


voltage-gated potassium channel


sodium hydrogen sulfide


reactive nitrogen species


reactive oxygen species


reduction-oxidation sensitive green fluorescent protein 2


reactive sulfur species


wild type



We thank Dr. Ilka Wittig (Frankfurt, Germany) for helpful comments on the mass spectrometry experiment.


This work was supported by grants of the German Research Foundation RTG 1715 and RTG 2155 (ProMoAge) (S.H.H.). T.H. was supported in part by the National Institutes of Health grant GM121375.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving animals were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institution or practice at which the studies were conducted. This article does not contain any studies with human participants performed by any of the authors.

Informed consent

Not applicable.

Supplementary material

424_2018_2233_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (3.9 mb)
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Molecular Biomedicine, Department of BiophysicsFriedrich Schiller University Jena and Jena University HospitalJenaGermany
  2. 2.Department of PhysiologyUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA

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