Structure and function of voltage-sensitive ion channels

Science  07 Oct 1988:
Vol. 242, Issue 4875, pp. 50-61
DOI: 10.1126/science.2459775


Voltage-sensitive ion channels mediate action potentials in electrically excitable cells and play important roles in signal transduction in other cell types. In the past several years, their protein components have been identified, isolated, and restored to functional form in the purified state. Na+ and Ca2+ channels consist of a principal transmembrane subunit, which forms the ion-conducting pore and is expressed with a variable number of associated subunits in different cell types. The principal subunits of voltage-sensitive Na+, Ca2+, and K+ channels are homologous members of a gene family. Models relating the primary structures of these principal subunits to their functional properties have been proposed, and experimental results have begun to define a functional map of these proteins. Coordinated application of biochemical, biophysical, and molecular genetic methods should lead to a clear understanding of the molecular basis of electrical excitability.

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