New Software Provides Quick Analysis of ion-Channel Activity

where ion channels are implicated.

For example, in people who have some kinds of inherited neuromuscular diseases, an amino acid in the receptors for the neurotransmitter has been altered, he said.

These alterations cause the ion channels either to stay open too long or not long enough, resulting in clinical disorders where the muscles are either too weak or too excitable.

By analyzing the currents that are produced by the ion channels that bind the transmitter, scientists have been able to tell which part of the channel operation is affected and suggest possible treatments.

QUB also is expected to be a boon to researchers who want to study protein dynamics in general. Since the flow of current through a channel makes many of the conformational states of ion channels visible, it is possible to see kinetic details that in most proteins are invisible.

An ion channel can pass more than 1 million ions per second,' Sachs said. That's a big enough output to measure in real time. The programs allow you to not only "watch" an ion channel molecule at work, they provide specific quantitative results on how it works, on how fast protein molecules change shape.

That information will give scientists a critical window into a protein's four-dimensional structure (in space and time), which determines its function, he explained.

The software uses algorithms based on the work of Russian mathematician Andrey Andreyevich Markov, similar to those currently used by computers to convert speech and handwriting to text.

It analyzes data obtained from experiments in which the electrical current produced by the ion channel in a cell is monitored and amplified.

That information is then fed to the computer.

The program then allows the researcher to develop accurate models of ion-channel behavior based on the experimental data.

The program says, "Give me a dataset and the models that you think apply, said Sachs. It then calculates which of the models pr

Contact: Sue Wuetcher
University at Buffalo

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