Research Articles

Structural basis for the gating mechanism of the type 2 ryanodine receptor RyR2

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Science  21 Oct 2016:
Vol. 354, Issue 6310, aah5324
DOI: 10.1126/science.aah5324

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Gating a calcium channel

The type 2 ryanodine receptor (RyR2) controls the release of calcium ions from the sarcoplasmic reticulum in cardiac cells—the initiating step in cardiac muscle contraction. Mutations in RyR2 are associated with cardiac diseases. Peng et al. used single-particle electron cryomicroscopy to determine the structure of RyR2 from porcine heart at 4.4-Å resolution with the calcium channel closed and at 4.2-Å resolution with the calcium channel open. The structures reveal how interdomain motions result in a conformational change in the cytoplasmic region of RyR2 that is transduced by a central domain to cause motions that open or close the channel.

Science, this issue p. 301

Structured Abstract


Ryanodine receptors (RyRs) are intracellular Ca2+ channels that control the release of Ca2+ from the sarco(endo)plasmic reticulum. Among the three mammalian RyR isoforms, RyR2 is primarily expressed in the heart and brain and is activated by Ca2+ influx by a mechanism known as calcium-induced calcium release. This Ca2+ release is fundamental to cellular processes ranging from muscle contraction to learning and memory.

RyRs are the largest known ion channels with a molecular mass of > 2 megadalton for a homotetramer. Each RyR protomer consists of a cytoplasmic region of over 4500 residues and a carboxyl terminal transmembrane (TM) domain. The four identical TM segments enclose a central ion-conducting pore, whereas the cytoplasmic regions serve as a scaffold for interactions with diverse ligands and protein modulators.

RyR channel gating involves a long-range allosteric mechanism. The structures of rabbit skeletal muscle RyR1 were determined at 3.8-Å resolution for the closed state and various lower resolutions for the potentially open states. Elucidating the gating mechanism of RyR requires structural determination of the open states at high resolution.


RyR2 harbors more than 150 mutations associated with cardiac disorders, such as catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia type 1, idiopathic ventricular fibrillation, and sudden cardiac death. Structural elucidation of RyR2 may provide the molecular basis for understanding disease mechanisms and for the development of potential novel therapeutics. We purified endogenous RyR2 from porcine heart using glutathione S-transferase–fused FKBP12. To obtain the structure of RyR2 in the closed state, 5 mM EDTA was included throughout purification. To capture an open RyR2, the protein was purified in the presence of 20 μM Ca2+ and the compound 2,2′,3,5′,6-pentachlorobiphenyl (PCB95) that can stabilize RyR1 in the open state.


The electron microscopy (EM) maps for RyR2 were reconstructed to 4.4- and 4.2-Å resolutions for the closed and open states, respectively. Compared to the structure of RyR1, a number of armadillo repeats in the C terminus of the helical domain 2 were invisible in RyR2, likely due to intrinsic flexibility. At 20 μM Ca2+, the cytoplasmic gate in the closed structure is dilated by approximately 8 Å, resulting in the shift of the constriction site from Ile4868 to Gln4864. The four Gln4864 residues enclose a gate with a diameter of approximately 4 Å, allowing Ca2+ passage in a single file.


Structure comparison of the open and closed RyR2 shows little intradomain rearrangement of the armadillo-containing cytoplasmic domains including the amino terminal domain, the Handle domain, and the Helical domain. Relative shifts between these domains result in the breathing motion of the periphery of the cytoplasmic canopy and the rotation of the Central domain. The horseshoe-shaped Central domain, with its convex side interacting with the three armadillo domains and its concave side wrapping around the cytoplasmic O-ring of the channel domain, serves as the primary transducer that integrates and translates the conformational changes of the cytoplasmic domains to channel gating. However, the mechanism of Ca2+ sensing and activation of RyR2 remains to be elucidated.

Cryogenic EM structures of RyR2 from porcine heart in both the closed and open states at near-atomic resolutions.

(Top) Representative two-dimensional class averages of electron micrographs of the closed and open RyR2. (Bottom) The two structures are superimposed relative to the transmembrane domain. The blue arrows indicate the overall shifts of the cytoplasmic region from the closed state to the open state. SR, sarcoplasmic reticulum.


RyR2 is a high-conductance intracellular calcium (Ca2+) channel that controls the release of Ca2+ from the sarco(endo)plasmic reticulum of a variety of cells. Here, we report the structures of RyR2 from porcine heart in both the open and closed states at near-atomic resolutions determined using single-particle electron cryomicroscopy. Structural comparison reveals a breathing motion of the overall cytoplasmic region resulted from the interdomain movements of amino-terminal domains (NTDs), Helical domains, and Handle domains, whereas almost no intradomain shifts are observed in these armadillo repeats–containing domains. Outward rotations of the Central domains, which integrate the conformational changes of the cytoplasmic region, lead to the dilation of the cytoplasmic gate through coupled motions. Our structural and mutational characterizations provide important insights into the gating and disease mechanism of RyRs.

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