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UCLA scientists identify how major biological sensor in the body works
Date:6/6/2011

A biological sensor is a critical part of a human cell's control system that is able to trigger a number of cell activities. A type of sensor known as the "gating ring" can open a channel that allows a flow of potassium ions through the cell's wall or membrane similar to the way a subway turnstile allows people into a station. This flow of ions, in turn, is involved in the regulation of crucial bodily activities like blood pressure, insulin secretion and brain signaling.

But the biophysical functioning of the gating ring sensor has not been clearly understood. Now, UCLA researchers have uncovered for the first time the sensor's molecular mechanism, shedding new light on the complexity of cells' control systems.

The findings, published in the June 10 issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry and featured as a "Paper of the Week," could lead to the development of specific therapies against diseases such as hypertension and genetic epilepsy.

Just as a smoke detector senses its environment and responds by emitting a sound signal, cells control their intracellular environment through molecular sensors that assess changes and trigger a response.

In this case, when calcium ions bind to the gating ring which constitutes the intracellular part of an ionic channel known as the BK channel the cell responds by allowing the flow of potassium ions across the cell membrane, with a wide range of consequences for the body.

BK channels are present in most cells in the body and regulate fundamental biological processes such as blood pressure, electrical signaling in the brain and nervous system, inner ear hair-tuning that impacts hearing, muscle contractions in the bladder, and insulin secretion from the pancreas, to name a few.

The UCLA researchers were able to identify for the first time how the gating ring is activated and how it rearranges itself to open the gateway that the ions flow through. Us
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Contact: Rachel Champeau
rchampeau@mednet.ucla.edu
310-794-2270
University of California - Los Angeles Health Sciences
Source:Eurekalert  

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