Mutations in small proteins that help convey electrical signals throughout the body may have a surprisingly large effect on health, according to results of a new Johns Hopkins study study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in December using spider, scorpion and sea anemone venom.
The tiny conduits carrying those electrical signals are sodium channels that are vital to our well-beingthey trigger action potentials, or spurts of electrical energy that course from body to brain to deliver messages that invoke feelings like pain or temperature sensitivity. When such channels go awry, they contribute to a slew of diseases, one of which is epilepsy.
In the new research, Frank Bosmans, Ph.D., an assistant professor of physiology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, has found that auxiliary "helper" proteins that interact with sodium channels also play a crucial role. And that, he says, could affect drug development for epilepsy, neurological diseases, muscular disorders and pain syndromes.
"Nobody had thought these tiny molecules that don't even form the main sodium channel were capable of changing the response of the channel to certain compounds," Bosmans says. "But in what we consider a new concept, these auxiliary subunits can be considered as drug targets."
Over the past few decades, there have been hints that these auxiliary proteins were influencing sodium channels, but few analyzed the problem very closely. John Gilchrist, a graduate student in Bosmans' lab, began evaluating each of the four proteins, one at a time.
Gilchrist engineered frog eggs that made sodium channels and exposed them to the toxins released by tarantulas, scorpions, wasps and sea anemones, an extension of Bosmans' earlier doctoral research studying the effect of animal venoms on sodium channels. He found that one auxiliary protein in particular, beta4, altered the whole sodium channel system
|Contact: Vanessa McMains|
Johns Hopkins Medicine