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ShK is a 35-residue peptide that binds with high affinity to human voltage-gated potassium channels through a conserved K-Y dyad. Here we have employed NMR measurements of backbone-amide 15N spin-relaxation rates to investigate motions of the ShK backbone. Although ShK is rigid on the ps to ns timescale, increased linewidths observed for 11 backbone-amide 15N resonances identify chemical or conformational exchange contributions to the spin relaxation. Relaxation dispersion profiles indicate that exchange between major and minor conformers occurs on the sub-millisecond timescale. Affected residues are mostly clustered around the central helix-kink-helix structure and the critical K22-Y23 motif. We suggest that the less structured minor conformer increases the exposure of Y23, known to contribute to binding affinity and selectivity, thereby facilitating its interaction with potassium channels. These findings have potential implications for the design of new channel blockers based on ShK.
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