Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Water molecules control inactivation and recovery of potassium channels

Just 12 molecules of water cause the long post-activation recovery period required by potassium ion channels before they can function again.

Using molecular simulations that modeled a potassium channel and its immediate cellular environment, atom for atom, University of Chicago scientists have revealed this new mechanism in the function of a nearly universal biological structure, with implications ranging from fundamental biology to the design of pharmaceuticals. Their findings were published online July 28 in Nature.

Depiction of simulated potassium channel and surrounding environment. Potassium ions (green) are unable to pass through because water molecules (red and white) are present inside the protein, locking the channel into an inactivated state.

Credit: Benoit Roux, University of Chicago

"Our research clarifies the nature of this previously mysterious inactivation state. This gives us better understanding of fundamental biology and should improve the rational design of drugs, which often target the inactivated state of channels" said Benoît Roux, PhD, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Chicago.

Potassium channels, present in the cells of virtually living organisms, are core components in bioelectricity generation and cellular communication. Required for functions such as neural firing and muscle contraction, they serve as common targets in pharmaceutical development.

These proteins act as a gated tunnel through the cell membrane, controlling the flow of small ions into and out of cells. After being activated by an external signal, potassium channels open to allow ions through. Soon after, however, they close, entering an inactive state and are unable to respond to stimuli for 10 to up to 20 seconds.

The cause of this long recovery period, which is enormously slow by molecular standards, has remained a mystery, as structural changes in the protein are known to be almost negligible between the active and inactivated states—differing by a distance equivalent to the diameter of a single carbon atom.

To shed light on this phenomenon, Roux and his team used supercomputers to simulate the movement and behavior of every individual atom in the potassium channel and its immediate environment. After computations corresponding to millions of core-hours, the team discovered that just 12 water molecules were responsible for the slow recovery of these channels.

They found that when the potassium channel is open, water molecules quickly bind to tiny cavities within the protein structure, where they block the channel in a state that prevents the passage of ions. The water molecules are released slowly only after the external stimulus has been removed, allowing the channel to be ready for activation again. This computer simulation-based finding was then confirmed through osmolarity experiments in the laboratory.

"Observing this was a complete surprise, but it made a lot of sense in retrospect," Roux said. "Better understanding of this ubiquitous biological system will change how people think about inactivation and recovery of these channels, and has the potential to someday impact human health."

The work was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health. Computation resources were provided by Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the National Resource for Biomedical Supercomputing and the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center.

Kevin Jiang | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Novel mechanisms of action discovered for the skin cancer medication Imiquimod
21.10.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Second research flight into zero gravity
21.10.2016 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>