Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Scientists Crack Molecular Code Regulating Neuronal Excitability

23.03.2011
A key question in protein biochemistry is how proteins recognize "correct" interaction partners in a sea of cellular factors.

Nowhere is that more critical to know than in the brain, where interactions governing channel protein activity can alter an organism's behavior. A team of biologists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies has recently deciphered a molecular code that regulates availability of a brain channel that modulates neuronal excitability, a discovery that might aid efforts to treat drug addiction and mental disorders.

In the this week's Online Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Paul Slesinger, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Clayton Foundation Laboratories for Peptide Biology, and colleagues detail how a regulatory factor called SNX27 distinguishes a brain channel protein called GIRK (short for G-protein-coupled inwardly rectifying potassium channels) from structurally similar proteins and then targets it for destruction.

That work extends the group's 2007 study showing that when SNX27 proteins capture GIRK channels, they are reducing the number of channels at their rightful destination, the cell membrane. "We were curious about what determined the selectivity of this interaction," says Slesinger. "We knew that SNX27 interacted with a structural motif found on GIRK channels but many channel proteins display a similar motif. We wanted to know what allowed SNX27 to specifically choose GIRK channels."

Knowing this is critical because of the connection of GIRK channels to substance abuse. Slesinger and others have shown that alcohol or club drugs linked to sexual assault (GHB) affects GIRK channel function in the brain. Loss-of-inhibition behaviors associated with abuse of these substances result from the fact that GIRK channels allow potassium ions to leak out of a stimulated neuron, thereby dampening a cell's excitability.

In the new study Slesinger's team confirmed that SNX27 resides in neurons, just below the membrane where active GIRK channels sit. Additional experiments using brain cells manipulated to express abnormally high SNX27 levels showed that cells were less responsive to drugs that activate channels, suggesting that SNX27 waylays membrane-bound GIRKs and blocks their function.

The fact that SNX27 displays a common protein-interaction signature called PDZ domain suggested how SNX27 grabs its partner: GIRKs contain a short, 4-residue sequence that binds to PDZ domains, a recognition motif Slesinger likens to a zip code. But channels similar to GIRKs, called IRKs, displayed an almost identical sequence but were impervious to destruction by SNX27. "We were puzzled by this similarity and swapped the 4-residue code in IRK with the corresponding sequence from GIRK," says Slesinger. Surprisingly, this IRK/GIRK hybrid did not bind SNX27, indicating that the IRK lacked other elements necessary for SNX27 recognition.

To define these new elements, Slesinger consulted with a long-standing collaborator, Senyon Choe, Ph.D., professor in Salk's Structural Biology Laboratory. Choe is an expert on a technique known as X-ray crystallography, used to determine the three-dimensional structure of proteins. The team scrutinized crystallized forms of SNX27 wrapped around the GIRK binding motif to try to visualize where the proteins made contact.

"We observed a binding cleft in the SNX27 PDZ domain and a region that formed another pocket with a lot of positive charges," says Slesinger. "The GIRK fragment lying there had a negative charge upstream of the 4-residue "zip code". That suggested that this second site allowed a previously unknown electrostatic interaction between these two proteins." Therefore, SNX27 may recognize a 6-residue motif, like the "zip plus 4' code.

More swap experiments targeting the GIRK negatively charged region confirmed the hypothesis. Synthetic forms of GIRK lacking the region no longer bound to SNX27. By contrast, an artificial version of IRK engineered to contain the GIRK negative charges homed to SNX27.

Most significant were experiments conducted by Bartosz Balana, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the Slesinger lab and the study's first author. Balana measured currents from cells engineered to carry GIRK channels lacking the charged region and found that GIRK currents were no longer dampened by SNX27, while cells expressing IRK channels displaying the false GIRK "address" now responded to SNX27. "This functional assay pin-pointed residues that dictate SNX27 binding beyond the normal PDZ recognition sequence," says Bartosz. "This supports a two-site binding model and emphasizes that second site can overrule binding at the classical site."

An interesting corollary to GIRKs' involvement in drug-related behavior is that SNX27 levels reportedly increase in rodent models of addiction to stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine. Selectively blocking this newly identified interaction between GIRK and SNX27 might thwart addiction. "Now we are able to better understand the role of these channels in responses to drugs of abuse. It is our hope that that this work will lead to new strategies to treat diseases such as alcoholism or even, diseases of excitability, such as epilepsy." says Slesinger.

Also contributing to the study were Kalyn Stern and Laia Bahima of the Slesinger Lab and Innokentiy Maslennikov, and Witek Kwiatkowski of Choe's Structural Biology Laboratory.

The study was funded by grants from the NIH and the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression.

About the Salk Institute for Biological Studies:

The Salk Institute for Biological Studies is one of the world's preeminent basic research institutions, where internationally renowned faculty probe fundamental life science questions in a unique, collaborative, and creative environment. Focused both on discovery and on mentoring future generations of researchers, Salk scientists make groundbreaking contributions to our understanding of cancer, aging, Alzheimer's, diabetes and infectious diseases by studying neuroscience, genetics, cell and plant biology and related disciplines.

Faculty achievements have been recognized with numerous honors, including Nobel Prizes and memberships in the National Academy of Sciences. Founded in 1960 by polio vaccine pioneer Jonas Salk, M.D., the Institute is an independent nonprofit organization and architectural landmark.

Gina Kirchweger | Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://www.salk.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Ageless ears? Elderly barn owls do not become hard of hearing
26.09.2017 | Carl von Ossietzky-Universität Oldenburg

nachricht eTRANSAFE – collaborative research project aimed at improving safety in drug development process
26.09.2017 | Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: The fastest light-driven current source

Controlling electronic current is essential to modern electronics, as data and signals are transferred by streams of electrons which are controlled at high speed. Demands on transmission speeds are also increasing as technology develops. Scientists from the Chair of Laser Physics and the Chair of Applied Physics at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) have succeeded in switching on a current with a desired direction in graphene using a single laser pulse within a femtosecond ¬¬ – a femtosecond corresponds to the millionth part of a billionth of a second. This is more than a thousand times faster compared to the most efficient transistors today.

Graphene is up to the job

Im Focus: LaserTAB: More efficient and precise contacts thanks to human-robot collaboration

At the productronica trade fair in Munich this November, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be presenting Laser-Based Tape-Automated Bonding, LaserTAB for short. The experts from Aachen will be demonstrating how new battery cells and power electronics can be micro-welded more efficiently and precisely than ever before thanks to new optics and robot support.

Fraunhofer ILT from Aachen relies on a clever combination of robotics and a laser scanner with new optics as well as process monitoring, which it has developed...

Im Focus: The pyrenoid is a carbon-fixing liquid droplet

Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.

A warming planet

Im Focus: Highly precise wiring in the Cerebral Cortex

Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.

The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...

Im Focus: Tiny lasers from a gallery of whispers

New technique promises tunable laser devices

Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

“Lasers in Composites Symposium” in Aachen – from Science to Application

19.09.2017 | Event News

I-ESA 2018 – Call for Papers

12.09.2017 | Event News

EMBO at Basel Life, a new conference on current and emerging life science research

06.09.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Goodbye, login. Hello, heart scan

26.09.2017 | Information Technology

The material that obscures supermassive black holes

26.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Ageless ears? Elderly barn owls do not become hard of hearing

26.09.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>