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Ion channel

The meaning of «ion channel»

Ion channels are pore-forming membrane proteins that allow ions to pass through the channel pore. Their functions include establishing a resting membrane potential,[1] shaping action potentials and other electrical signals by gating the flow of ions across the cell membrane, controlling the flow of ions across secretory and epithelial cells, and regulating cell volume. Ion channels are present in the membranes of all cells.[2][3] Ion channels are one of the two classes of ionophoric proteins, the other being ion transporters.[4]

The study of ion channels often involves biophysics, electrophysiology, and pharmacology, while using techniques including voltage clamp, patch clamp, immunohistochemistry, X-ray crystallography, fluoroscopy, and RT-PCR. Their classification as molecules is referred to as channelomics.

There are two distinctive features of ion channels that differentiate them from other types of ion transporter proteins:[4]

Ion channels are located within the membrane of all excitable cells,[3] and of many intracellular organelles. They are often described as narrow, water-filled tunnels that allow only ions of a certain size and/or charge to pass through. This characteristic is called selective permeability. The archetypal channel pore is just one or two atoms wide at its narrowest point and is selective for specific species of ion, such as sodium or potassium. However, some channels may be permeable to the passage of more than one type of ion, typically sharing a common charge: positive (cations) or negative (anions). Ions often move through the segments of the channel pore in single file nearly as quickly as the ions move through free solution. In many ion channels, passage through the pore is governed by a "gate", which may be opened or closed in response to chemical or electrical signals, temperature, or mechanical force.

Ion channels are integral membrane proteins, typically formed as assemblies of several individual proteins. Such "multi-subunit" assemblies usually involve a circular arrangement of identical or homologous proteins closely packed around a water-filled pore through the plane of the membrane or lipid bilayer.[5][6] For most voltage-gated ion channels, the pore-forming subunit(s) are called the α subunit, while the auxiliary subunits are denoted β, γ, and so on.

Because channels underlie the nerve impulse and because "transmitter-activated" channels mediate conduction across the synapses, channels are especially prominent components of the nervous system. Indeed, numerous toxins that organisms have evolved for shutting down the nervous systems of predators and prey (e.g., the venoms produced by spiders, scorpions, snakes, fish, bees, sea snails, and others) work by modulating ion channel conductance and/or kinetics. In addition, ion channels are key components in a wide variety of biological processes that involve rapid changes in cells, such as cardiac, skeletal, and smooth muscle contraction, epithelial transport of nutrients and ions, T-cell activation and pancreatic beta-cell insulin release. In the search for new drugs, ion channels are a frequent target.[7][8][9]

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