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Unprecedented detail of intact neuronal receptor offers blueprint for drug developers
Date:8/26/2014

mbled."

For such a large complex, this was a challenging task. Using an exhaustive array of protein purification methods, Furukawa and Karakas were able to isolate the intact receptor. Their crystal structure reveals that the receptor looks much like a hot air balloon. "The 'basket' is what we call the transmembrane domain. It forms an ion channel that allows electrical signals to propagate through the neuron," explains Furukawa.

An ion channel is like a gate in the neuronal membrane. Ions, small electrically charged atoms, are unable to pass through the cell membrane. When the ion channel "gate" is closed, ions congregate outside the cell, creating an electrical potential across the cell membrane.

When the ion channel "gate" opens, ions flow in and out of the cell through the channel pores. This generates an electrical current that sums up to create pulses that rapidly propagate through the neuron. But the current can't jump from one neuron to the next. Rather, the electrical pulse triggers the release of chemical messengers, called neurotransmitters. These molecules traverse the distance between the neurons and bind to receptors, such as the NMDA receptor, on the surface of neighboring cells. There, they act much like a key, unlocking ion channels within the receptor and propelling the electrical signal across another neuron and, ultimately, across the brain.

The "balloon" portion of the receptor that Furukawa describes is found outside the cell. This is the region that binds to neurotransmitters. The structure of the assembled multi-subunit receptor complex, including the elusive ion channel, helps to explain some of the existing data about how NMDA receptors function. "We are able to see how one domain on the exterior side of the receptor directly regulates the ion channel within the membrane," says Furukawa. "Our structure shows why this particular domain, called the amino terminal domain, is important for the activity of the
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Contact: Tona Kunz
tkunz@anl.gov
630-252-5560
DOE/Argonne National Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert

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