How little ”nano-machines” inside the body operate

December 20th, 2008 - 4:24 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, December 20 (ANI): A team of researchers from the university of Montreal and the University of Chicago claims to have made a discovery that can improve scientists understanding of ion channels, which are akin to little ”nano-machines” or ”nano-valves” inside the body.
The discovery attains significance as ion channels, when malfunction, can cause genetic illnesses that attack muscles, the central nervous system, and the heart.
Reporting their work in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the researchers said that they had developed a new method to detect the movement of single proteins that control the ion exchange between the cells and their environment.
According to background information in the research article, these proteins open and close much like an iris in a camera, and thereby control the movement of ions between the cells and their environment, which allows the transmission of electrical signals along our nerve cells.
The article further states that these valves are about a million times smaller than the pupil of a human eye.
The researchers insist that their new technique can help measure one single ion channel at the time, and investigate how different parts inside the ion channels communicate.
“Our discovery will help advance the basic understanding of ion channels. These membrane proteins mark a major drug target, since they play a central role in the entire body and mutations in their genes cause many severe genetic illnesses,” says Rikard Blunck, a professor from the University of Montreal’’s Department of Physics, and one of the lead researchers.
For their study, the researchers investigated potassium channels built out of four identical subunits, which form a pore through the membrane that can open and close in order to allow or block ion conduction.
Their study solved a long debate over whether the four subunits of a K+ channel function independently or in a concerted action.
With a view to determining that question, the researchers developed a fluorescence spectroscopy technique that allowed distinguishing between the subunits so that one could follow the movement of each of the four subunits, information that was lost in previous measurements.
The team observed that the four molecules act together, which explains why no intermediate steps are found in the electrical current measured in electrophysiological experiments. (ANI)

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