Researchers track ion exchange to understand genetic disorders betterDecember 19th, 2008 - 5:53 pm ICT by IANS
Toronto, Dec 19 (IANS) Researchers have developed a method to track the movement of single proteins that control the ion exchange, whose malfunction can cause genetic illnesses. Like an iris in a camera, these proteins open and close and thereby control the movement of ions between the cells and their environment, which allows the transmission of electrical signals along our nerve cells.
These small valves are about a million times smaller than the pupil of a human eye. The new technique will allow scientists to measure one single ion channel at a time and investigate how different parts inside the ion channels communicate.
The research team was led by Rikard Blunck, professor from Montreal University physics department, undergraduate Hugo McGuire and their collaborators at University of Chicago, Francisco Bezanilla and H. Clark Hyde.
“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,” said Blunck.
The study is important, as biophysics researchers seek to better understand the structure and movement of ion channels because the malfunctioning of these channels is implicated in a number of diseases.
For this study, the research team 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.
They solved a long debate in the field: Do the four subunits of a potassium-plus channel function independently or in concerted action?
They found that the four molecules act together, which explains why no intermediate steps are found in the electrical current measured in electrophysiological experiments, said a Montreal University release.
The study was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Tags: drug target, electrophysiological experiments, genetic illnesses, ion conduction, membrane proteins, montreal university, nerve cells, potassium channels, proceedings of the national academy of sciences, university physics department