Biologists have discovered how an outer shield over T-type channels change the electrochemical signaling of heart and brain cells.
Understanding how these shields work will help researchers eventually develop a new class of drugs for treating epilepsy, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
The study from the University of Waterloo is published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry today and is featured as the “Paper of the Week” for its significance.
The researchers discovered T-type channels in the pond snail, Lymnaea stagnalis, can shift from using calcium ions to using sodium ions to generate the electrical signal because of an outer shield of amino acids called a turret situated above the channel’s entrance.
Low voltage T-type channels generate tiny pulses of current at regular intervals by selectively passing positively charged cations across the cell’s membrane through a gate-like channel. The channels are normally extremely selective, allowing just one sodium ion to pass for every 10,000 calcium ions.
The resulting rhythmic signals produced by this transfer of cations are what support the synchronous contraction of our heart muscles and neuronal firing in parts of the brain, like the thalamus, which helps regulate our sleep-wake cycle, or circadian rhythm.
In addition to their published findings, the researchers also found the shield-like turrets in pond snails restrict access of therapeutic drugs to the channel.
T-type channels in pond snails and other invertebrates are similar to those found in humans. Although pond snails reach only 7 cm in length, its simple neural network and physiology make it a popular model organism with neurobiologists.
Over-active T-type channels are linked to epilepsy, cardiac problems, neuropathic pain, as well as the spreading of several kinds of cancer. Drugs that could quench out-of-control T-type channel activity are unable to bind to the channels themselves.
“We wanted to understand the molecular structures of T-type channels,” said Spafford. “How they pass ionic currents to generate electrical activity, and to identify drug binding sites, and the drugs which may block these channels to treat neurological disease or heart complications.”
The group is currently investigating how dismantling this extracellular turret will improve drug access and binding in T-type channels.
Waterloo Biology graduate students Adriano Senatore, Wendy Guan and Research Associate Adrienne Boone carried out the research under the supervision of Professor David Spafford.
Adriano Senatore recently graduated with his doctorate in 2013. He received the Governor General’s Medal for best PhD thesis at the University of Waterloo. Senatore has published more than a dozen research articles with Dr. Spafford for his PhD thesis research.
This work was funded by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada and the NSERC Discovery program.
In just half a century, the University of Waterloo, located at the heart of Canada's technology hub, has become one of Canada's leading comprehensive universities with 35,000 full- and part-time students in undergraduate and graduate programs. Waterloo, as home to the world's largest post-secondary co-operative education program, embraces its connections to the world and encourages enterprising partnerships in learning, research and discovery. In the next decade, the university is committed to building a better future for Canada and the world by championing innovation and collaboration to create solutions relevant to the needs of today and tomorrow. For more information about Waterloo, please visit www.uwaterloo.ca.
Attention broadcasters: Waterloo has facilities to provide broadcast quality audio and video feeds with a double-ender studio. Please contact us to book.
Nick Manning | Eurek Alert!
How to become a T follicular helper cell
31.07.2015 | La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology
Heating and cooling with light leads to ultrafast DNA diagnostics
31.07.2015 | University of California - Berkeley
Using ultracold atoms trapped in light crystals, scientists from the MPQ, LMU, and the Weizmann Institute observe a novel state of matter that never thermalizes.
What happens if one mixes cold and hot water? After some initial dynamics, one is left with lukewarm water—the system has thermalized to a new thermal...
Physicists from Regensburg and Marburg, Germany have succeeded in taking a slow-motion movie of speeding electrons in a solid driven by a strong light wave. In the process, they have unraveled a novel quantum phenomenon, which will be reported in the forthcoming edition of Nature.
The advent of ever faster electronics featuring clock rates up to the multiple-gigahertz range has revolutionized our day-to-day life. Researchers and...
Researchers have developed an ultrafast light-emitting device that can flip on and off 90 billion times a second and could form the basis of optical computing.
Joint BioEnergy Institute study identifies bacterial protein that is key to protecting rice against bacterial blight
A bacterial signal that when recognized by rice plants enables the plants to resist a devastating blight disease has been identified by a multi-national team...
Researchers in the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin are one step closer to delivering smart windows with a new level of energy efficiency, engineering materials that allow windows to reveal light without transferring heat and, conversely, to block light while allowing heat transmission, as described in two new research papers.
By allowing indoor occupants to more precisely control the energy and sunlight passing through a window, the new materials could significantly reduce costs for...
23.07.2015 | Event News
10.07.2015 | Event News
25.06.2015 | Event News
31.07.2015 | Trade Fair News
31.07.2015 | Transportation and Logistics
31.07.2015 | Physics and Astronomy