Old Gate Gets a New Look

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Science  09 Jul 2010:
Vol. 329, Issue 5988, pp. 151-152
DOI: 10.1126/science.1192680

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Cells are constantly exchanging water-soluble molecules like nutrients and inorganic ions with their environment. The movement of these molecules across the cell's plasma membrane is mediated by various transport proteins that create pores through the membrane's lipid bilayer. One type of transport protein, an ion channel, is responsible for transporting certain ions, such as potassium, calcium, or sodium. Ion channels have filters that make the channel permeable only to a specific kind of ion and gates that regulate the flow of ions through the channel. Gates can be controlled by chemical and/or electrical signals, including those created by differences in the voltage inside and outside the cell (membrane potential), and the concentrations of binding molecules (ligands). On page 182, Yuan et al. offer new insights into the structure of an important potassium ion channel and the cues that cause its gate to open and close (1).