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How the cells remove copper


Crystallisation shows the protein's function

The copper pump protein that ensures the transport of copper ions through the cell membrane has been mapped by means of crystallisation.

"The protein passes through a phased cycle to perform the pump function.

We have crystallised the protein in different stages and can thus determine precisely when the passage through the cell membrane is open, so the copper ions can be pumped out.

In other words, we have mapped the copper ions' exit route," explains postdoc Pontus Gourdon who is part of the team - which also comprises PhD student Oleg Sitsel, PhD student Daniel Mattle, laboratory technician Tetyana Klymchuk, laboratory technician Anna Marie Nielsen and Professor Poul Nissen - who have delivered Aarhus University's contribution to the study.

The copper pump gets its fuel from the ATP molecule, which supplies the energy for most of the energy-demanding processes in the body.

Bacteria can be polluted with copper

The results cannot at the present time be translated into a specific treatment, but the new knowledge is nonetheless extremely important for the basic understanding of the causes of diseases related to copper imbalances and why they arise.

In addition, our understanding of the mechanisms of the copper pump can also be used to develop new antibiotics, which can be targeted at blocking the copper pump in harmful bacteria and thereby poisoning the bacteria.

"Now knowing how the pump transports copper out through the cell membrane, we are also closer to being able to say how the copper pump can be taken out of service, so that the copper level in the cell reaches toxic levels. This knowledge can be used in the fight against harmful bacteria by preventing them from excreting themselves with their copper," says Oleg Sitsel.

The copper pump protein, which the researchers have studied, is extracted from the bacterium Legi

Contact: Poul Nissen
Aarhus University

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