Porthole used in both odor-detecting cells and digestion-aiding cells
A cellular "porthole" known best for its role in the digestive system apparently has a major role in helping the brain sense odors, Johns Hopkins scientists report in the Feb. 17 issue of Neuron. The porthole, which lets chloride into cells, is also critical in digestion, hearing, balance, and fertility. The researchers suggest that digestive system cells and odor-detecting cells use the same chloride porthole, or ion transporter -- the former to facilitate secretion of digestive juices, and the latter to communicate information about scents to the brain.
Although scientists have long known that odor-sensing cells require lots of charged chloride atoms, or ions, to relay odor signals to the brain, they did not know how cells keep levels of chloride high inside of the cells. Now Hopkins researchers have shown that these high chloride levels in odor-detecting cells depend on the same transporter, known as NKCC1, used in many other types of cells as well. "Its not unusual for the body to use the same machinery to solve different problems," notes one of the lead authors, Jonathan Bradley, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in neuroscience. "Chloride is a kind of jack-of-all-trades that cells can hijack to do what they want."
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