We are fundamentally dependent on the presence of copper in the cells of the body. Copper is actually part of the body's energy conversion and protective mechanisms against oxygen radicals, as well as part of the immune system, and it also has great importance for the formation of e.g. hormones and neurotransmitters.
Imbalance in the body's copper level has therefore a number of serious consequences for our health, as can be seen with the disorder Wilson's disease, where the liver accumulates copper in harmful quantities, and the very serious Menkes syndrome, where a congenital defect in the cell's copper charge of key enzymes causes e.g. neurological defects, muscular disorders, low blood pressure and osteoporosis, and is typically fatal within the first three years of life.
Both Menkes syndrome and Wilson's disease are caused by defects in the mechanism that regulates the copper levels in the cells.
A mechanism which researchers at the Danish National Research Centre PUMPkin at Aarhus University have now moved a step closer to understand.
They have shown that the protein that is responsible for the excretion of copper in the cells of the body makes use of a unique transport mechanism.
The results have recently been published in the recognised scientific journal Nature Structural and Molecular Biology.
"The copper pump is a protein that has the function of removing the toxic surplus of copper from the cells. The protein is located partially inside the cell, and partially in the surrounding cell membrane. The parts of the protein which are located inside the cell function almost as a series of cogs, which interlace with one another. Putting it simply, when the cogs rotate they draw on the part of the protein located in the cell membrane, and in this manner a tiny passage opens and closes through the membrane. The copper is pumped out through the passage," says PhD student Oleg Sitsel, co-author of the
|Contact: Poul Nissen|