Store-operated Ca2+ entry occurs through the binding of the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) Ca2+ sensor STIM1 to Orai1, the pore-forming subunit of the Ca2+ release-activated Ca2+ (CRAC) channel. Although the essential steps leading to channel opening have been described, fundamental questions remain, including the functional stoichiometry of the CRAC channel. The crystal structure of Drosophila Orai indicates a hexameric stoichiometry, while studies of linked Orai1 concatemers and single-molecule photobleaching suggest that channels assemble as tetramers. We assessed CRAC channel stoichiometry by expressing hexameric concatemers of human Orai1 and comparing in detail their ionic currents to those of native CRAC channels and channels generated from monomeric Orai1 constructs. Cell surface biotinylation results indicated that Orai1 channels in the plasma membrane were assembled from intact hexameric polypeptides and not from truncated protein products. In addition, the L273D mutation depressed channel activity equally regardless of which Orai1 subunit in the concatemer carried the mutation. Thus, functional channels were generated from intact Orai1 hexamers in which all subunits contributed equally. These hexameric Orai1 channels displayed the biophysical fingerprint of native CRAC channels, including the distinguishing characteristics of gating (store-dependent activation, Ca2+-dependent inactivation, open probability), permeation (ion selectivity, affinity for Ca2+ block, La3+ sensitivity, unitary current magnitude), and pharmacology (enhancement and inhibition by 2-aminoethoxydiphenyl borate). Because permeation characteristics depend strongly on pore geometry, it is unlikely that hexameric and tetrameric pores would display identical Ca2+ affinity, ion selectivity, and unitary current magnitude. Thus, based on the highly similar pore properties of the hexameric Orai1 concatemer and native CRAC channels, we conclude that the CRAC channel functions as a hexamer of Orai1 subunits.
Yen, M., Lokteva, L. A., & Lewis, R. S. (2016). Functional Analysis of Orai1 Concatemers Supports a Hexameric Stoichiometry for the CRAC Channel. Biophysical Journal, 111(9), 1897–1907. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bpj.2016.09.020