Manual Ionic Channels of Excitable Membranes

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Such evolutionary diversification suggests an early origin of modular ion-selective pore domains for tetrameric channels and of voltage-sensor domains that could be appended to them. They acquire this apparent voltage dependence by being blocked plugged by several cytoplasmic polyvalent cations that move into the inner pore whenever outward current would flow.

Also distantly related in part to other tetrameric channels are synaptic glutamate receptor channels see next section. They have a pore-domain fold related to that of the other tetrameric channels. Another major family of fast synaptic receptors is the ionotropic glutamate receptors gluR.

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Although very similar in function, their architecture is quite distinct from that of the cysteine-loop synaptic receptors. They are tetramers of homologous subunits, forming a central pore strikingly resembling that of the voltage-gated superfamily, but with inverse topological orientation in the membrane. In the gluRs, the tetrameric pore module is appended to large extracellular glutamate-binding modules of separate origin.

Again the pore opens within a millisecond of the binding of several glutamates and, in most cases, small cations pass into the cell with little selectivity among cations, generating a depolarization and excitation. They have one central cation-preferring pore formed from three homologous subunits.

Ion channels were first recognized in the plasma membranes of cells, but they are present in all intracellular organelle membranes as well. For example, some members of the ClC family are prominent in endosomes and in plant vacuoles.

Ionic channels of excitable membranes

The ClC gene family is unusual in that some members form anion channels and other members form proton-coupled Cl - transporters. Such diversity reinforces the concept that ion channels and ion transporters carriers are formally and, at least sometimes, structurally related membrane proteins.

Ion Channel Types

Salts dissolved in water dissociate into negative anions and positive cations. In an applied electric field, the anions move toward the positive pole and the cations towards the negative pole. Both streams of ions contribute to electric current flow. By convention, current is said to flow in the direction that positive charges would move. The proportionality constant g is called the conductance units Siemens. Pure lipid bilayers have a conductance near zero.

On the other hand real biological membranes have some conductance, all of which is contributed by the ion channels.


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The membrane conductance is the sum of the individual conductances of each of the channels see Electrical properties of cell membranes. Hence the number of open channels is readily determined by an electrical measurement of the total conductance of the membrane.

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The single-channel conductance of typical ion channels ranges from 0. Ohm's law gives an approximate description of ion currents in an open ion channel except that for real channels the electrical driving force is usually not zero when the membrane potential E is zero. Therefore ions will flow down their concentration gradients through open channels even in the absence of an overt electrical potential difference E across the membrane.

In this sense ion channels act as tiny batteries that can generate electrical currents and potentials across the cell membrane. One needs to know what the zero-current potential for an ion-selective channel is in order to write Ohm's law correctly for that channel. Consider two cases, either only one ion is permeant in the channel the simplest case or several ions are permeant.

Simulations of ion channels and excitable membranes

Walther Nernst derived the formula from equilibrium thermodynamics for the zero-current potential or equilibrium potential when only one ion is permeant and it is driven by a concentration gradient. In that case the voltage of the ion channel "battery" is given by the Nernst Equation.

Goldman, Hodgkin, and Katz derived an equation for the zero-current potential when several ions are permeant, a non-equilibrium empirical formula.


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In that case the ion channel "battery" is given by the GHK Equation. In either case, if the potential of the channel "battery" obtained from such equations is called E ions , the revised Ohm's law may be written:. This equation says there is no net ionic current in the channel when the membrane potential is E ions. Thus, if only this channel type is open, the cell membrane potential will be brought quickly to the value of E ions for that channel. Even this revised Ohm's law does not describe current in open ion channels perfectly.

Ohm's law is by definition a linear relationship. Because the structure of the pore of ion channels often has intrinsic asymmetries and because the concentrations of the permeant ions and any blocking ion on either side differ, the current-voltage relation of real channels may be curved or rectifying depending on the direction of ion flow.

Submission history

By the mid s biophysical studies of osmosis and urine filtration led to the hypothesis that there are pores of molecular diameter in biological membranes. This concept was presented in textbooks of physiology from then on as one of several unproven possibilities. At the time the word membrane was applied without distinction to sheets of tissue such as epithelia and to the then hypothetical envelope of cells that is known today as the plasma membrane. Functional studies during the period to revealed voltage-gated and ligand-gated channels in nerve and muscle plasma membranes and finally proved that they are aqueous pores.

Their use of voltage clamp allowed Alan L. Hodgkin and Andrew F. Subsequently patch clamp showed that the opening and closing transitions of individual channel molecules are sudden, all-or-nothing events as the flexible channel protein snaps from one conformation to another. Email address for updates.

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Ionic channels of excitable membranes. Local anesthetics: hydrophilic and hydrophobic pathways for the drug-receptor reaction. B Hille The Journal of general physiology 69 4 , ,