A third of the global population relies heavily upon traditional or folk medicines, such as the African shrub Mallotus oppositifolius. Here, we used pharmacological screening and electrophysiological analysis in combination with in silico docking and site-directed mutagenesis to elucidate the effects of M. oppositifolius constituents on KCNQ1, a ubiquitous and influential cardiac and epithelial voltage-gated potassium (Kv) channel. Two components of the M. oppositifolius leaf extract, mallotoxin (MTX) and 3-ethyl-2-hydroxy-2-cyclopenten-1-one (CPT1), augmented KCNQ1 current by negative shifting its voltage dependence of activation. MTX was also highly effective at augmenting currents generated by KCNQ1 in complexes with native partners KCNE1 or SMIT1; conversely, MTX inhibited KCNQ1-KCNE3 channels. MTX and CPT1 activated KCNQ1 by hydrogen bonding to the foot of the voltage sensor, a previously unidentified drug site which we also find to be essential for MTX activation of the related KCNQ2/3 channel. The findings elucidate the molecular mechanistic basis for modulation by a widely used folk medicine of an important human Kv channel and uncover novel molecular approaches for therapeutic modulation of potassium channel activity.
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