To figure out what was going on in the altered channels, Bosmans needed to know what the protein looked like, he says. He contacted Filip Van Petegem, a crystallographer at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. Van Petegem was able to map the 3-D structure of beta4 down to 1.7 angstroms, the highest possible resolution. Crystal structure in hand, Bosmans could now mutate beta4 and watch what happened.
Purely by chance, Van Petegem had already started that mutation process. To diagram the crystal, Van Petegem had been forced to substitute one protein for another due to quirks in the test system. Bosmans found that the tiny mutation thwarted beta4's interaction with the sodium channel system.
That finding promptly overturned conventional wisdom into how these proteins behave, Bosmans says.
Back in 1998, Bosmans says, physicians determined that a mutation in the beta1 protein seemed to be triggering a case of epilepsy. Epilepsy has hundreds of causes. It was known at the time that a chemical bridge within the sodium channel held the beta proteins together. If that bridge, known as a disulfide bond, is broken, the proteins fall apart. The physicians theorized that the mutation they found must have destroyed the bridge along with their accompanying proteins. That broken bridge theory has remained dominant ever since.
But when Bosmans introduced that same mutation in beta4, the structure stayed intact. The changes he saw were much more subtle. The position of the protein Van Petegem had mutated changed slightly so that it was farther away from the channel. A
|Contact: Vanessa McMains|
Johns Hopkins Medicine