NEW YORK (April 24, 2011) -- A team of scientists from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and Weill Cornell Medical College has shed light on the molecular workings of transporter proteins, molecular machines embedded in the cell membranes of neurons that modulate the transfer of signals between cells and recycle neurotransmitters.
The research, published today in the journal Nature, reveals with unprecedented detail how the molecule performs its task, says one of the senior authors, Dr. Jonathan Javitch, the Lieber Professor of Experimental Therapeutics in Psychiatry and professor of pharmacology in the Center for Molecular Recognition at Columbia University Medical Center. "This level of understanding may ultimately lead to improved treatments for psychiatric disorders and increase our understanding of how drugs such as cocaine work."
In the brain, one neuron communicates to another by releasing chemicals called neurotransmitters into the gap between them, called the synapse. To stop the signal, specialized transporters must remove the released neurotransmitter from the synapse by pumping it back into the releasing cell. In the treatment of some diseases it is beneficial, however, to allow the neurotransmitters to build up in the synapses. Antidepressants make this possible by interfering with particular transporters, as do stimulant drugs like cocaine and amphetamines.
Neuronal cells have different transporters. One family of transporters, known as neurotransmitter/sodium symporters (NSSs) are specialized for the uptake of certain neurotransmitters, including dopamine, noradrenaline and serotonin. They are named symporters because the transport process requires energy to concentrate neurotransmitter inside neurons -- the energy required is provided by the imbalance of sodium ions across the cell membrane. Thus, sodium ions flow down their concentration gradient into the neurons through the NSSs, thereby a
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New York- Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center/Weill Cornell Medical College