The brain is the source of thoughts, perceptions, emotions, memories and actions. Neural signaling, the foundation of brain activity, must be precisely regulated to prevent neuronal disorders that may cause Parkinson's disease, schizophrenia, compulsive behaviors and addiction. Such a precise regulation is achieved by key signaling proteins, voltage-gated sodium and potassium channels for electrical signaling and calcium - bound synaptotagmin for chemical signaling. Here, innovations in computer simulation techniques will be used to investigate the molecular mechanism of neural firing induced by voltage-gated sodium and potassium channels and membrane fusion triggered by synaptotagmin.

Spotlight: Secondary Pores in Potassium Channels (Feb 2012)

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Voltage-gated ion channels, present in the membrane of excitable cells, control the ionic concentrations of the cellular environment by maintaining a potential difference of -100 mV between inside and outside of the cell membrane. Voltage-sensing occurs through distinct protein modules, known as voltage-sensor domains, four of which surround the main conduction pathway in potassium channels. Mutation of a certain amino acid on the voltage sensor domain turns these protein modules into cation channels, known as omega pores, which allow conduction of ions only when the main pathway is closed. Omega pores closely resemble the long-sought voltage-gated proton channels, which were recently identified to follow the same voltage-sensing mechanism as voltage-gated cation channels. In a recent report, researchers have visualized the twisted permeation pathway of the ions through omega pores using the molecular dynamics program NAMD. The simulations revealed a narrow constriction region lined by negatively charged amino acids, acting as a selectivity filter that prefers passage of positively charged ions through the pore. For more detail, see our potassium channel website .

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