Activity of the epithelial Na+ channel (ENaC) is modulated by Na+ self-inhibition, an allosteric down-regulation of channel open probability by extracellular Na+. We searched for determinants of Na+ self-inhibition by analyzing changes in this inhibitory response resulting from specific mutations within the extracellular domains of mouse ENaC subunits. Mutations at γMet438 altered the Na+ self-inhibition response in a substitution-specific manner. Fourteen substitutions (Ala, Arg, Asp, Cys, Gln, Glu, His, Ile, Phe, Pro, Ser, Thr, Tyr, and Val) significantly suppressed Na+ self-inhibition, whereas three mutations (Asn, Gly, and Leu) moderately enhanced the inhibition. Met to Lys mutation did not alter Na+ self-inhibition. Mutations at the homologous site in the α subunit (G481A, G481C, and G481M) dramatically increased the magnitude and speed of Na+ self-inhibition. Mutations at the homologous βAla422 resulted in minimal or no change in Na+ self-inhibition. Low, high, and intermediate open probabilities were observed in oocytes expressing αG481Mβγ, αβγM438V, and αG481M/βγM438V, respectively. This pair of residues map to theα5 helix in the extracellular thumb domain in the chicken acid sensing ion channel 1 structure. Both residues likely reside near the channel surface because both αG481Cβγ and αβγM438C channels were inhibited by an externally applied and membrane-impermeant sulfhydryl reagent. Our results demonstrate that αGly481 and γMet438 are functional determinants of Na+ self-inhibition and of ENaC gating and suggest that the thumb domain contributes to the channel gating machinery
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