Voltage-gated proton channels: what's next?


Corresponding author T. E. DeCoursey: Department of Molecular Biophysics and Physiology, Rush University Medical Center, 1750 W. Harrison, Chicago, IL 60612 USA. Email:


This review is an attempt to identify and place in context some of the many questions about voltage-gated proton channels that remain unsolved. As the gene was identified only 2 years ago, the situation is very different than in fields where the gene has been known for decades. For the proton channel, most of the obvious and less obvious structure–function questions are still wide open. Remarkably, the proton channel protein strongly resembles the voltage-sensing domain of many voltage-gated ion channels, and thus offers a novel approach to study gating mechanisms. Another surprise is that the proton channel appears to function as a dimer, with two separate conduction pathways. A number of significant biological questions remain in dispute, unanswered, or in some cases, not yet asked. This latter deficit is ascribable to the intrinsic difficulty in evaluating the importance of one component in a complex system, and in addition, to the lack, until recently, of a means of performing an unambiguous lesion experiment, that is, of selectively eliminating the molecule in question. We still lack a potent, selective pharmacological inhibitor, but the identification of the gene has allowed the development of powerful new tools including proton channel antibodies, siRNA and knockout mice.