What it all means
As far as he knows, Cui says, this is the first study to focus on the dynamics of ion channels and to show that dynamics matter to function.
He suspects, however, that dynamics might be generally important to ion-channel function. A class of ion channels called TRP channels, Cui says, respond to heat or cold and also to menthol, which is why menthol is a "cool" taste. At colder temperatures, proteins would move more sluggishly, so in this case, too, it is possible that dynamics influence function.
Understanding ion channels is also important to medicine. Many poorly understood diseases, such as epilepsy, migraine, cardiac arrhythmias and some autoimmune diseases, are being revealed to be disorders of the ion channels, or channelopathies, as they are called.
Based on what is known of the BK channel's roles in the body, work on the channel might lead to the identification of several more channelopathies.
The BK channel is implicated not just in epilepsy and movement disorders but also in hypertension (it regulates the tone of smooth muscles like those that line the blood vessels). It is a suspect in schizophrenia because some antipsychotic drugs function much as BK does to increase outflows of potassium, and it may also play a role in autism and mental retardation.
In short, the basic research now underway in Cui's lab may one day have an impact far beyond its walls.
|Contact: Diana Lutz|
Washington University in St. Louis