Structural and Evolutionary Insights Point to Allosteric Regulation of TRP Ion Channels

ConspectusThe familiar pungent taste of spicy food, the refreshing taste of mint, and many other physiological phenomena are mediated by transient receptor potential (TRP) ion channels. TRP channels are a superfamily of ion channels that are sensitive to diverse chemical and physical stimuli and play diverse roles in biology. In addition to chemical regulation, some family members also sense common physical stimuli, such as temperature or pressure. Since their discovery and cloning in the 1990s and 2000s, understanding the molecular mechanisms governing TRP channel function and polymodal regulation has been a consistent but challenging goal. Until recently, a general lack of high-resolution TRP channel structures had significantly limited a molecular understanding of their function.In the past few years, a flood of TRP channel structures have been released, made possible primarily by advances in cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM). The boon of many structures has unleashed unparalleled insight into TRP channel architecture. Substantive comparative studies between TRP structures provide snapshots of distinct states such as ligand-free, stabilized by chemical agonists, or antagonists, partially illuminating how a given channel opens and closes. However, the now ∼75 TRP channel structures have ushered in surprising outcomes, including a lack of an apparent general mechanism underlying channel opening and closing among family members. Similarly, the structures reveal a surprising diversity in which chemical ligands bind TRP channels.Several TRP channels are activated by temperature changes in addition to ligand binding. Unraveling mechanisms of thermosensation has proven an elusive challenge to the field. Although some studies point to thermosensitive domains in the transmembrane region of the channels, results have sometimes been contradictory and difficult to interpret; in some cases, a domain that proves essential for thermal sensitivity in one context can be entirely removed from the channel without affecting thermosensation in another context. These results are not amenable to simple interpretations and point to allosteric networks of regulation within the channel structure.TRP channels have evolved to be fine-tuned for the needs of a species in its environmental niche, a fact that has been both a benefit and burden in unlocking their molecular features. Functional evolutionary divergence has presented challenges for studying TRP channels, as orthologs from different species can give conflicting experimental results. However, this diversity can also be examined comparatively to decipher the basis for functional differences. As with structural biology, untangling the similarities and differences resulting from evolutionary pressure between species has been a rich source of data guiding the field. This Account will contextualize the existing biochemical and functional data with an eye to evolutionary data and couple these insights with emerging structural biology to better understand the molecular mechanisms behind chemical and physical regulation of TRP channels.