Stephan A Pless

IT University of Copenhagen, København, Capital Region, Denmark

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Publications (43)209.73 Total impact

  • Robin Y. Kim · Stephan A. Pless · Harley T. Kurata
    No preview · Article · Feb 2016
  • Nina Braun · Timothy Lynagh · Rilei Yu · Philip C. Biggin · Stephan A. Pless
    No preview · Article · Feb 2016
  • Nina Braun · Timothy Lynagh · Rilei Yu · Philip C Biggin · Stephan A Pless
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Cys-loop receptors mediate fast synaptic transmission in the nervous system and their dysfunction is associated with a number of diseases. While some sequence variability is essential to ensure specific recognition of a chemically diverse set of ligands, other parts of the underlying amino acid sequences show a high degree of conservation, possibly to preserve the overall structural fold across the protein family. In this study we focus on the only two absolutely conserved residues across the Cys-loop receptor family, two Trp side chains in the WXD motif of Loop D and in the WXPD motif of Loop A. Using a combination of conventional mutagenesis, unnatural amino acid incorporation, immunohistochemistry and MD simulations, we demonstrate the crucial contributions of these two Trp residues to receptor expression and function in two prototypical Cys-loop receptors, the anion-selective GlyR α1 and the cation-selective nAChR α7. Specifically, our results rule out possible electrostatic contributions of these Trp side chains and instead suggest that the overall size and shape of this aromatic pair is required in stabilizing the Cys-loop receptor extracellular domain.
    No preview · Article · Jan 2016 · ACS Chemical Neuroscience
  • Stephan A Pless · Christopher A Ahern
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Ion channels are membrane-spanning proteins that control the flow of ions across biological membranes through an aqueous pathway. The opening or closing of this pore can be controlled by a myriad of physiological inputs (voltage, ligands, temperature, metabolites, pH), which in turn allow for the controlled flux of ions across membranes, resulting in the generation of minute electrical signals. The functional implications of ion channel function on physiological processes are vast. Electrical impulses, in the form of action potentials or diverse chemo-electrical signals, coordinate the syncytium of the heart beat, support a myriad of neuronal communication pathways, insulin secretion, and are central to the immune response, with more roles being discovered virtually everyday. Thus, ion channel function is a biophysical process that is central to biological life at many levels. And with over 500 channel-forming subunits known today in humans, this large class of proteins is also increasingly recognised as important drug targets, as inherited or acquired ion channel dysfunction are known causes of disease.
    No preview · Article · Sep 2015 · Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology
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    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Retigabine is a recently approved anticonvulsant that acts by potentiating neuronal M-current generated by KCNQ2-5 channels, interacting with a conserved Trp residue in the channel pore domain. Using unnatural amino-acid mutagenesis, we subtly altered the properties of this Trp to reveal specific chemical interactions required for retigabine action. Introduction of a non-natural isosteric H-bond-deficient Trp analogue abolishes channel potentiation, indicating that retigabine effects rely strongly on formation of a H-bond with the conserved pore Trp. Supporting this model, substitution with fluorinated Trp analogues, with increased H-bonding propensity, strengthens retigabine potency. In addition, potency of numerous retigabine analogues correlates with the negative electrostatic surface potential of a carbonyl/carbamate oxygen atom present in most KCNQ activators. These findings functionally pinpoint an atomic-scale interaction essential for effects of retigabine and provide stringent constraints that may guide rational improvement of the emerging drug class of KCNQ channel activators.
    Full-text · Article · Sep 2015 · Nature Communications
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    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: ATP-sensitive potassium (KATP) channels are heteromultimeric complexes of an inwardly-rectifying Kir channel (Kir6.x) and sulfonylurea receptors (SUR). Their regulation by intracellular ATP and ADP generates electrical signals in response to changes in cellular metabolism. We investigated channel elements that control the kinetics of ATP-dependent regulation of KATP (Kir6.2 + SUR1) channels using rapid concentration jumps. WT Kir6.2 channels re-open after rapid washout of ATP with a time constant of approximately 60 ms. Extending similar kinetic measurements to numerous mutants revealed fairly modest effects on gating kinetics despite significant changes in ATP sensitivity and open probability. However, we identified a pair of highly conserved neighboring amino acids (Trp68, Lys170) that control the rate of channel opening and inhibition in response to ATP. Paradoxically, mutations of Trp68 or Lys170 markedly slow the kinetics of channel opening (500 ms and 700 ms for Trp68Leu and Lys170Asn, respectively), while increasing channel open probability. Examining the functional effects of these residues using phi-value analysis revealed a steep negative slope. This finding implies that these residues play a role in lowering the transition state energy barrier between open and closed channel states. Using unnatural amino acid incorporation, we demonstrate the requirement for a planar amino acid at Kir6.2 position 68 for normal channel gating, potentially necessary to localize the ε-amine of Lys170 in the PIP2 binding site. Overall, our findings identify a discrete pair of highly conserved residues with an essential role for controlling gating kinetics of Kir channels. Copyright © 2015, The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.
    Preview · Article · May 2015 · Journal of Biological Chemistry
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    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Unnatural amino acid incorporation into ion channels has proven to be a valuable approach to interrogate detailed hypotheses arising from atomic resolution structures. In this short review, we provide a brief overview of some of the basic principles and methods for incorporation of unnatural amino acids into proteins. We also review insights into the function and pharmacology of voltage-gated ion channels that have emerged from unnatural amino acid mutagenesis approaches.This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved
    Preview · Article · Jan 2015 · The Journal of Physiology
  • No preview · Article · Jan 2015 · Biophysical Journal
  • Stephan A. Pless
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: In this issue of Structure, Ulens and colleagues demonstrate how an elegant combination of complementary functional and structural approaches can uncover both binding sites and conformational consequences associated with the Alzheimer’s drug memantine binding to an ion channel.
    No preview · Article · Oct 2014 · Structure
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    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Voltage-gated sodium (NaV) channels mediate electrical excitability in animals. Despite strong sequence conservation among the voltage-sensor domains (VSDs) of closely related voltage-gated potassium (KV) and NaV channels, the functional contributions of individual side chains in Nav VSDs remain largely enigmatic. To this end, natural and unnatural side chain substitutions were made in the S2 hydrophobic core (HC), the extracellular negative charge cluster (ENC), and the intracellular negative charge cluster (INC) of the four VSDs of the skeletal muscle sodium channel isoform (NaV1.4). The results show that the highly conserved aromatic side chain constituting the S2 HC makes distinct functional contributions in each of the four NaV domains. No obvious cation-pi interaction exists with nearby S4 charges in any domain, and natural and unnatural mutations at these aromatic sites produce functional phenotypes that are different from those observed previously in Kv VSDs. In contrast, and similar to results obtained with Kv channels, individually neutralizing acidic side chains with synthetic derivatives and with natural amino acid substitutions in the INC had little or no effect on the voltage dependence of activation in any of the four domains. Interestingly, countercharge was found to play an important functional role in the ENC of DI and DII, but not DIII and DIV. These results suggest that electrostatic interactions with S4 gating charges are unlikely in the INC and only relevant in the ENC of DI and DII. Collectively, our data highlight domain-specific functional contributions of highly conserved side chains in NaV VSDs.
    Full-text · Article · May 2014 · The Journal of General Physiology
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    Timothy Lynagh · Stephan A Pless
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Cys-loop receptors are ligand-gated ion channels that are activated by a structurally diverse array of neurotransmitters, including acetylcholine, serotonin, glycine, and GABA. After the term "chemoreceptor" emerged over 100 years ago, there was some wait until affinity labeling, molecular cloning, functional studies, and X-ray crystallography experiments identified the extracellular interface of adjacent subunits as the principal site of agonist binding. The question of how subtle differences at and around agonist-binding sites of different Cys-loop receptors can accommodate transmitters as chemically diverse as glycine and serotonin has been subject to intense research over the last three decades. This review outlines the functional diversity and current structural understanding of agonist-binding sites, including those of invertebrate Cys-loop receptors. Together, this provides a framework to understand the atomic determinants involved in how these valuable therapeutic targets recognize and bind their ligands.
    Full-text · Article · Apr 2014 · Frontiers in Physiology
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    Full-text · Article · Jan 2014 · Biophysical Journal
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    Preview · Article · Jan 2014 · Biophysical Journal
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    Full-text · Dataset · Dec 2013
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    Full-text · Dataset · Dec 2013
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    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Voltage-gated potassium (Kv) channels enable potassium efflux and membrane repolarization in excitable tissues. Many Kv channels undergo a progressive loss of ion conductance in the presence of a prolonged voltage stimulus, termed slow inactivation, but the atomic determinants that regulate the kinetics of this process remain obscure. Using a combination of synthetic amino acid analogs and concatenated channel subunits we establish two H-bonds near the extracellular surface of the channel that endow Kv channels with a mechanism to time the entry into slow inactivation: an intra-subunit H-bond between Asp447 and Trp434 and an inter-subunit H-bond connecting Tyr445 to Thr439. Breaking of either interaction triggers slow inactivation by means of a local disruption in the selectivity filter, while severing the Tyr445–Thr439 H-bond is likely to communicate this conformational change to the adjacent subunit(s). DOI:
    Full-text · Article · Dec 2013 · eLife Sciences
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    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Voltage-gated potassium channels elicit membrane hyperpolarization through voltage-sensor domains that regulate the conductive status of the pore domain. To better understand the inherent basis for the open-closed equilibrium in these channels, we undertook an atomistic scan using synthetic fluorinated derivatives of aromatic residues previously implicated in the gating of Shaker potassium channels. Here we show that stepwise dispersion of the negative electrostatic surface potential of only one site, Phe481, stabilizes the channel open state. Furthermore, these data suggest that this apparent stabilization is the consequence of the amelioration of an inherently repulsive open-state interaction between the partial negative charge on the face of Phe481 and a highly co-evolved acidic side chain, Glu395, and this interaction is potentially modulated through the Tyr485 hydroxyl. We propose that the intrinsic open-state destabilization via aromatic repulsion represents a new mechanism by which ion channels, and likely other proteins, fine-tune conformational equilibria.
    Full-text · Article · Apr 2013 · Nature Communications
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    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Supplementary Figures S1-S11, Supplementary Tables S1 and S2 and Supplementary Reference
    Preview · Dataset · Apr 2013
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Transient receptor potential vanilloid subfamily member 1 channels are polymodal sensors of noxious stimuli and integral players in thermosensation, inflammation and pain signaling. It has been shown previously that under prolonged stimulation, these channels show dynamic pore dilation, providing a pathway for large and otherwise relatively impermeant molecules. Further, we have shown recently that these nonselective cation channels, when activated by capsaicin, are potently and reversibly blocked by external application of quaternary ammonium compounds and local anesthetics. Here we describe a novel phenomenon in transient receptor potential channel pharmacology whereby their expression levels in Xenopus laevis oocytes, as assessed by the magnitude of macroscopic currents, are negatively correlated with extracellular blocker affinity: small current densities give rise to nanomolar blockade by quaternary ammoniums and this affinity decreases linearly as current density increases. Possible mechanisms to explain these data are discussed in light of similar observations in other channels and receptors.
    No preview · Article · Feb 2013 · Channels (Austin, Tex.)
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    Stephan A. Pless · Christopher A. Ahern
    Preview · Article · Jan 2013 · Biophysical Journal

Publication Stats

408 Citations
209.73 Total Impact Points


  • 2015
    • IT University of Copenhagen
      København, Capital Region, Denmark
  • 2010-2014
    • University of British Columbia - Vancouver
      • Department of Mechanical Engineering
      Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
  • 2008-2011
    • University of Queensland
      • School of Biomedical Sciences
      Brisbane, Queensland, Australia