How voltage ion channels interact with their surroundings

2009

Challenge

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.

Advance

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.

Impact

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.

Publications

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.