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Controlling your (nerve) impulses

(Philadelphia, PA) Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine have discovered the mechanism that facilitates how two ion channels collaborate in the control of electrical signals in the brain. The investigators showed that the channels were anchored by a third protein at key locations on the nerve cell surface, allowing them to work together to set the timing and pattern of nerve impulses. They also found that this channel partnership mechanism is present in all vertebrates, but is lacking in invertebrates, suggesting that the coupling of these channels may be essential for the higher abilities of vertebrate brains. The elucidation of this novel interaction should aid efforts to develop new treatments for epileptic seizures, pain, and abnormal muscle movements. They report their findings in the cover article of the March 8 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

Sodium and potassium are salt molecules (or ions) found throughout the body. Cells pump extra potassium into their interiors, and pump extra sodium out to the surrounding fluid. Electrical impulses in neurons are created when these ions are allowed to return to their original locations by passing rapidly through channels in nerve cells' outer membranes. Nerve cells possess wire-like extensions, called axons, which initiate these impulses and carry them from one cell to the next.

Penn's Edward Cooper, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Neurology, and colleagues, zeroed in on two key regions of nerve axons the initial segment, where each impulse starts, and the nodes of Ranvier, outlying stations spaced along the axon where the impulse receives an essential electrical boost to look for the anchoring. Nerve impulses begin after exciting inputs are received by the nerve cell either from the environment or from other nerve cells in the body. Once adequate input signals have accrued, the movement of sodium into the cell will start a nerve impulse at the axon initial segment.
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Contact: Karen Kreeger
karen.kreeger@uphs.upenn.edu
215-349-5658
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine
7-Mar-2006


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