Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Nervy research: Researchers take initial look at ion channels in a model system

Date:
December 6, 2009
Source:
National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
Summary:
New research has allowed scientists to observe nerve ion channels within the cell surface membrane for the first time, potentially offering insights for future drug development.

An imaging technique known as neutron diffraction, used along with molecular simulations, revealed that an ion channel’s voltage sensing domain (red, yellow and blue molecule at center) perturbs the two-layered cell membrane that surrounds it (yellow surfaces), causing the membrane to thin slightly.
Credit: NIST

Before one of your muscles can twitch, before the thought telling it to flex can race down your nerve, a tiny floodgate of sorts -- called an ion channel -- must open in the surface of each cell in these organs to let in the chemical signals that spur the cell to action. New research at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has allowed scientists to observe ion channels within the surface membrane for the first time, potentially offering insights for future drug development.

Because they function as gatekeepers for messages passing among nerve cells, ion channels are the target of a host of drugs that treat psychological and neurological issues. But because the proteins that form the channels are hard to observe, obtaining knowledge of their operation has proved difficult. Studies of the proteins have been limited to either the molecules in isolation or dried and crystallized to get an idea of their structures. Now, a multi-institutional team working at NIST's Center for Neutron Research (NCNR) has provided a glimpse of the proteins in their naturally occurring form and interacting with the surrounding cell membrane.

The findings, just reported in the journal Nature, improve our understanding of the moving portion of the ion channel that responds to voltage differences across the cell membrane, according to team leader Stephen White. While the work may not be of practical medical use for some time, he says, it is a useful step toward understanding how signals travel -- particularly among neurons.

"All of the communications in the body are electrical," says White, a biophysicist at the University of California, Irvine. "The motion of life depends on ion channels responding to voltage differences, so that they open and close at just the right moment, controlling the use of energy. Without them, nothing would happen in the body."

By investigating this portion of the ion channel, called a voltage-sensing domain, the team has provided science's first glimpse of how an ion channel's shape and motion affects the cell membrane, which in turn helps protect and stabilize the proteins that form the channel. White says further research could lead to a complete picture of how ion channels function.

"We still can't see in detail how the gate opens and closes, but that's our eventual goal," White says. "We hope that someday we'll be able to detect the motion of these voltage-sensing domains in their up and down states."

The research team, jointly headed by White and Kenton Swartz of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), also includes scientists from the University of Missouri, the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the NCNR. Funding for the study was provided by the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of General Medical Sciences and NINDS.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. D. Krepkiy, M. Mihailescu, J.A. Freites, E.V. Schow, D.L. Worcester, K. Gawrisch, D.J. Tobias, S.H. White and K. Swartz. Structure and hydration of membranes embedded with voltage-sensing domains. Nature, 2009; 462 (7272): 473 DOI: 10.1038/nature08542

Cite This Page:

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). "Nervy research: Researchers take initial look at ion channels in a model system." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 December 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/12/091202091026.htm>.
National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). (2009, December 6). Nervy research: Researchers take initial look at ion channels in a model system. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 29, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/12/091202091026.htm
National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). "Nervy research: Researchers take initial look at ion channels in a model system." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/12/091202091026.htm (accessed July 29, 2014).

Share This




More Matter & Energy News

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Climate Change Could Cost Billions, According To White House

Climate Change Could Cost Billions, According To White House

Newsy (July 29, 2014) A report from the White House warns not curbing greenhouse gas emissions could cost the U.S. billions. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Stranded Whale Watching Boat Returns to Boston

Stranded Whale Watching Boat Returns to Boston

Reuters - US Online Video (July 29, 2014) Passengers stuck overnight on a whale watching boat return safely to Boston. Linda So reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Baluchistan Mining Eyes an Uncertain Future

Baluchistan Mining Eyes an Uncertain Future

AFP (July 29, 2014) Coal mining is one of the major industries in Baluchistan but a lack of infrastructure and frequent accidents mean that the area has yet to hit its potential. Duration: 01:58 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Easier Nuclear Construction Promises Fall Short

Easier Nuclear Construction Promises Fall Short

AP (July 29, 2014) The U.S. nuclear industry started building its first new plants using prefabricated Lego-like blocks meant to save time and prevent the cost overruns that crippled the sector decades ago. So far, it's not working. (July 29) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins