Membrane protein research is at the forefront of modern biological study, with great potential consequences for development of new medicinal treatments and genetic engineering of plants.
The research on NhaA has been carried out by Etana Padan, the Adelina and Massimo DellaPergola Professor of Life Sciences, with Dr. Rimon Avraham, both of the Silberman Institute of Life Sciences at the Hebrew University, and Prof. Hartmut Michel, Nobel prize winner for chemistry in 1988, of the Max Planck for biophysics in Frankfurt, Germany. Their work, described in a recent edition of the journal Nature, was supported by a grant from the German-Israel Binational Science Foundation;
Proteins such as NhaA are found in the membranes of every living cell, from bacteria and up to humans. Until now, the structure of fewer than 50 cell membrane proteins have been discovered, as opposed to 30,000 soluble proteins.
"The location of the proteins in the cell membranes presents tremendous difficulties in research," said Prof. Padan. "Unlike the majority of those proteins which are soluble in water, the membrane proteins are soluble only in fats or in the presence of detergents."
The cell membrane is the crossroads of busy, two-way "traffic" through which materials and impulses travel into and out of the cell. The fatty cell membrane is impenetrable to most of these materials and signals; and it is therefore the proteins within the membranes that are responsible for the communication between the cell and its environment. Indeed, more than 60 percent of the medicines in use today are directed at the cell membrane proteins. Since the cell membrane proteins are exposed, in part, to areas extending outside the cells, the medicines are able to reach them without entering the cell itself.
Contact: Jerry Barach
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem