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'Unnatural' chemical allows Salk researchers to watch protein action in brain cells
Date:7/7/2011

iments was to demonstrate how these Uaas can be used to help solve a biological question. The researchers wanted to know how voltage-sensitive ion channels, which are pore forming proteins, work in neurons. In these nerve cells, membrane ion channels respond to changes in electric current - the charged signal that is passed between neurons - that either activate or silence the neurons.

"We are trying to understand how the electric field of cell membranes can turn on or turn off protein activities - like a switch in a house turns on or off lights," Wang says.

To study this phenomenon, the researchers embedded a fluorescent Uaa into a protein domain that ion channel and other proteins used to sense the electric field in neural stem cells, which produced neurons with the same embedded Uaa. They could then watch, in real time, the fluorescent tag given changes in electrical current across the neuron. "We detected changes in fluorescence intensity of the Uaa when the neurons were stimulated, and these changes are dependent on where the Uaa was incorporated, which hint that different positions of the protein are moving into or outside of the membrane in response to the electric field."

Wang says this experiment, designed to demonstrate the power of Uaas in brain cells, can also be adapted to study other membrane proteins in other cells, no matter where they exist in the body.


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Contact: Andy Hoang
ahoang@salk.edu
619-861-5811
Salk Institute
Source:Eurekalert

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