Identification of an inhibitory Zn2+ binding site on the human glycine receptor α1 subunit


  • Robert J. Harvey and Philip Thomas made equal contributions to this study and should be considered as equal ‘first authors’.


  • 1Whole-cell glycine-activated currents were recorded from human embryonic kidney (HEK) cells expressing wild-type and mutant recombinant homomeric glycine receptors (GlyRs) to locate the inhibitory binding site for Zn2+ ions on the human α1 subunit.
  • 2Glycine-activated currents were potentiated by low concentrations of Zn2+ (<10 μm) and inhibited by higher concentrations (>100 μm) on wild-type α1 subunit GlyRs.
  • 3Lowering the external pH from 7.4 to 5.4 inhibited the glycine responses in a competitive manner. The inhibition caused by Zn2+ was abolished leaving an overt potentiating effect at 10 μm Zn2+ that was exacerbated at 100 μm Zn2+.
  • 4The identification of residues involved in the formation of the inhibitory binding site was also assessed using diethylpyrocarbonate (DEPC), which modifies histidines. DEPC (1 mm) abolished Zn2+-induced inhibition and also the potentiation of glycine-activated currents by Zn2+.
  • 5The reduction in glycine-induced whole-cell currents in the presence of high (100 μm) concentrations of Zn2+ did not increase the rate of glycine receptor desensitisation.
  • 6Systematic mutation of extracellular histidine residues in the GlyR α1 subunit revealed that mutations H107A or H109A completely abolished inhibition of glycine-gated currents by Zn2+. However, mutation of other external histidines, H210, H215 and H419, failed to prevent inhibition by Zn2+ of glycine-gated currents. Thus, H107 and H109 in the extracellular domain of the human GlyR α1 subunit are major determinants of the inhibitory Zn2+ binding site.
  • 7An examination of Zn2+ co-ordination in metalloenzymes revealed that the histidine- hydrophobic residue-histidine motif found to be responsible for binding Zn2+ in the human GlyR α1 subunit is also shared by some of these enzymes. Further comparison of the structure and location of this motif with a generic model of the GlyR α1 subunit suggests that H107 and H109 participate in the formation of the inhibitory Zn2+ binding site at the apex of a β sheet in the N-terminal extracellular domain.