UCLA scientists have identified how a biological sensor, which constitutes a key part of the cell’s control system, has the ability to stimulate various cell activities.
A unique type of sensor called the “gating ring” has the capability to open a passageway that enables potassium ions to flow through the cell’s membrane. The flow of ions is engaged in regulating key body functions such as brain signaling, blood pressure and insulin secretion.
However, the gating ring sensor’s biophysical function still remains unclear. UCLA scientists have exposed the molecular mechanism of the sensor by showing the complication of cells’ control systems. This discovery could help develop explicit therapies against different diseases like genetic epilepsy and hypertension. The research findings are published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry under the title, “Paper of the Week,” in the June 10 issue.
Cells are able to regulate their intracellular condition via molecular sensors that evaluate the changes and stimulate a response just like a smoke detector, which detects its environment and triggers a sound signal.
For example, when calcium ions clamp to the gating ring, the cells allow the potassium ions to flow across the cell membrane. BK channel, an ionic channel, exists in most cells and controls the basic biological processes, including blood pressure, inner ear hair-tuning that affects hearing, insulin discharge from the pancreas, electrical signaling in the nervous system and brain, and muscle contractions in the bladder.
For the first time, the UCLA researchers were able to recognize how the gating ring gets activated and how it reorganizes itself to clear the gateway from where the ions flow. The team used modern biochemical, spectroscopic and electrophysiological methods to show how the structure of the gating ring is changed when calcium ions sticks to it. In the process, the calcium binding’s chemical energy gets converted into mechanical work and allows the opening of the BK channel.
The next stage in the research will evaluate how the BK channel and gating ring sensor, when engaged in sensing small molecules, have biological consequences in the functioning of the human body.