New research* at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has allowed scientists to observe ion channels within the surface membrane for the first time, potentially offering insights for future drug development.
Because they function as gatekeepers for messages passing among nerve cells, ion channels are the target of a host of drugs that treat psychological and neurological issues. But because the proteins that form the channels are hard to observe, obtaining knowledge of their operation has proved difficult. Studies of the proteins have been limited to either the molecules in isolation or dried and crystallized to get an idea of their structures. Now, a multi-institutional team working at NIST’s Center for Neutron Research (NCNR) has provided a glimpse of the proteins in their naturally occurring form and interacting with the surrounding cell membrane.
The findings, just reported in the journal Nature, improve our understanding of the moving portion of the ion channel that responds to voltage differences across the cell membrane, according to team leader Stephen White. While the work may not be of practical medical use for some time, he says, it is a useful step toward understanding how signals travel—particularly among neurons.
“All of the communications in the body are electrical,” says White, a biophysicist at the University of California, Irvine. “The motion of life depends on ion channels responding to voltage differences, so that they open and close at just the right moment, controlling the use of energy. Without them, nothing would happen in the body.”
By investigating this portion of the ion channel, called a voltage-sensing domain, the team has provided science’s first glimpse of how an ion channel’s shape and motion affects the cell membrane, which in turn helps protect and stabilize the proteins that form the channel. White says further research could lead to a complete picture of how ion channels function.
“We still can’t see in detail how the gate opens and closes, but that’s our eventual goal,” White says. “We hope that someday we’ll be able to detect the motion of these voltage-sensing domains in their up and down states.”
The research team, jointly headed by White and Kenton Swartz of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), also includes scientists from the University of Missouri, the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the NCNR. Funding for the study was provided by the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of General Medical Sciences and NINDS.
* D. Krepkiy, M. Mihailescu, J.A. Freites, E.V. Schow, D.L. Worcester, K. Gawrisch, D.J. Tobias, S.H. White and K. Swartz. Structure and hydration of membranes embedded with voltage-sensing domains. Nature, 462, pp. 473-479 (Nov. 26, 2009), doi:10.1038/nature08542
Chad Boutin | Newswise Science News
A Map of the Cell’s Power Station
18.08.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau
On the way to developing a new active ingredient against chronic infections
18.08.2017 | Deutsches Zentrum für Infektionsforschung
Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.
As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...
Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.
Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...
For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.
While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...
An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.
The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...
A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...
16.08.2017 | Event News
04.08.2017 | Event News
26.07.2017 | Event News
18.08.2017 | Life Sciences
18.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
18.08.2017 | Materials Sciences