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Structural Perspective of Ion Channels Modulation
Every cell in our body interacts with its environment. These ever-lasting cellular conversations serve to pass crucial information important for promoting and maintaining numerous processes, which enable the cells to respond to their changing surroundings. Concerted cellular activities ranging from organ development, through metabolic balance, to immune response and neuronal activity, are a few examples highlighting the importance of this communication.
Ion channels are the key molecular elements, deeply involved in this cellular talk. These fascinating proteins facilitate the controlled passage of charged particles, the ions, through lipid membranes, which are otherwise impermeable hydrophobic barriers. Indeed, due to their critical biological roles, approximately 15% of all drugs target ion channels as their therapeutic receptors. Moreover, as all proteins, the structural organization of ion channels is tightly related to their diverse functions. Thus, it stands to reason that studying the molecular properties of these pivotal proteins is of extreme importance.
In principle, ion channels are best known for their activity in the brain and muscles. This makes a lot of sense in light of the fact that ion channels drive most of our cells’ electrical potential. For example, it would be impossible to lift a finger, or even to consider it, without the activity of voltage-gated sodium channels found in our muscles and neurons. However, it turns out that moving things and thinking thoughts are not the only things ion channels are good for. These amazing proteins are also abundant in non-excitable tissues, collectively known as “electrically boring” But, these tissues are anything but boring – some of the most interesting cells we know belong to this group, which includes the immune system and cancer cells to name a few.
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