How voltage ion channels interact with their surroundings



Voltage-activated ion channels are important to a variety of physiological processes, including generating nerve impulses, regulating heart contraction, and secreting hormones. Visualizing ion channels in their native environments—for example, within a lipid bilayer—is a technical challenge that if overcome could reshape treatments for many diseases.


IRP researchers led by Kenton Swartz, Ph.D., used neutron diffraction, solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, and molecular dynamics simulations to gather new information about voltage-activated ion channels, discovering interactions with the surrounding membrane in a way that maintains both the charged nature of the channel and the integrity of the membrane.


The findings provide perspective for voltage sensors and a new direction for targeted therapeutic development, since many drugs that affect the nervous system work by modifying the behavior of voltage-activated ion channels.


Krepkiy D, Mihailescu M, Freites JA, Schow EV, Worcester DL, Gawrisch K, Tobias DJ, White SH, Swartz KJ. (2009). Structure and hydration of membranes embedded with voltage-sensing domains. Nature. 462(7272), 473-9.

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This page was last updated on Tuesday, August 8, 2023