Inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate receptor (IP3R) is a highly controlled calcium (Ca2+) channel gated by inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate (IP3). Multiple regulators modulate IP3-triggered pore opening by binding to discrete allosteric sites within IP3R. Accordingly we have postulated that these regulators structurally control ligand gating behavior; however, no structural evidence has been available. Here we show that Ca2+, the most pivotal regulator, induced marked structural changes in the tetrameric IP3R purified from mouse cerebella. Electron microscopy of the IP3R particles revealed two distinct structures with 4-fold symmetry: a windmill structure and a square structure. Ca2+ reversibly promoted a transition from the square to the windmill with relocations of four peripheral IP3-binding domains, assigned by binding to heparin-gold. Ca2+-dependent susceptibilities to limited digestion strongly support the notion that these alterations exist. Thus, Ca2+ appeared to regulate IP3 gating activity through the rearrangement of functional domains.
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