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Atomic structure discovered for a sodium channel that generates electrical signals in living cells
Date:7/13/2011

Scientists at the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle have determined the atomic architecture of a sodium channel. The achievement opens new possibilities for molecular medicine researchers around the world in designing better drugs for pain, epilepsy, and heart rhythm disturbances.

Sodium channels are pores in the membranes of excitable cells such as brain nerve cells or beating heart cells that emit electrical signals. Sodium channels selectively open and close to allow the passage of millions of tiny charged particles across the cell membrane. The gated flow of sodium ions generates tiny amounts of electrical current.

Never before have researchers been able to obtain a high-resolution crystal structure showing all of the atoms of this complex protein molecule and how they relate in three-dimensions.

The findings were reported in the July 10 advanced online edition of Nature. The authors are Jian Payandeh, Todd Scheuer, Ning Zheng, and William A. Catterall, all of the UW Department of Pharmacology. Zheng is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator.

"Electrical signals from voltage-gated sodium channels encode and process information in the brain and nervous system, make heart muscle contract, and control the release of insulin from the pancreas," said Catterall, UW chair and professor of pharmacology. "Sodium channels are important molecules because they regulate a wide range of physiological activities."

Mutations in voltage-gated sodium channels underlie inherited forms of epilepsy, migraine headaches, heart rhythm disturbances, periodic paralysis, and some pain syndromes.

The symptoms of these disorders often stem from faulty electrical signals between cells. In epilepsy, for example, an electrical "storm" erupts in a network of cells in the brain. Some nerve toxins, such as scorpion stings or hazardous algal blooms, disrupt sodium channels.

Many medications for
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Contact: Leila Gray
leilag@u.washington.edu
206-685-0381
University of Washington
Source:Eurekalert

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