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Researchers discover structure of Nature's 'circuit breaker'

n potassium channels, the same voltage-sensing mechanism is likely to exist in other channels. "Voltage-dependent calcium, sodium and potassium channels are all members of the same big family and are all related evolutionarily," he said. "And what relates them is that they have the same voltage sensor. So there is absolutely no question that this is a conserved biological mechanism."

Discovery of the voltage-sensing mechanism may yield important clinical applications, said MacKinnon. "These paddles, I think, will be important targets for compounds that modulate ion channels," he said. "Current drugs that block the ion pore can only inhibit the channel. However, a molecule that binds to the voltage-sensor paddle could either lock it shut or hold it open." Given the ubiquity of ion channels throughout the body, such drugs will likely prove useful in a broad array of disorders of the nervous system, muscles or heart, MacKinnon said.


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Contact: Jim Keeley
keeleyj@hhmi.org
301-215-8858
Howard Hughes Medical Institute
30-Apr-2003


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