'Electronic switch' opens doors in rheumatoid joints

Jan 02, 2008

A breakthrough in understanding the way atoms move across cell membranes in the human body could pave the way for the development of new treatments for inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Scientists at the University of Leeds have identified a previously unknown natural mechanism that opens ion channels – proteins at the cell surface that act as doorways into and out of cells – through the naturally occurring protein thioredoxin.

Ion channels allow movement of ions - electrically charged atoms - across the cell membrane to carry out various functions such as pain transmission, timing of the heart beat, and regulation of blood glucose. Often, they need to be stimulated to open and, until now, two main groups of activating mechanisms have been acknowledged: changes in cell voltage and binding of chemical factors.

In a paper published today (03 January) in Nature, Professor Beech and colleagues from the University’s Faculty of Biological Sciences reveal that thioredoxin works in a different manner: it activates an ion channel by donating electrons to it, in a process Professor Beech likens to “an electronic on-switch”.

“Thioredoxin is naturally present in cells and is secreted to help the body counter stressful chemical reactions that occur in inflammation, which can damage cells,” he explains. “We already knew that inflammatory diseases cause the production of high levels of thioredoxin – in fact with rheumatoid arthritis, it’s striking how much is present in affected joints. But we didn’t know until now that thioredoxin can also activate ion channels, conferring additional protective potential and offering opportunities for mimicking the effect with drugs.”

“It would seem that the body’s own natural defences have provided us with new understanding that could be significant in the development of future treatments for arthritis and related diseases,” he says.

Source: University of Leeds

Explore further: Prized sea snail not at risk of extinction, federal officials say

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Architecture of a lipid transport protein revealed

Nov 13, 2014

For the first time, the complex architecture of a protein that controls the transport of lipids between the two layers of a cell membrane has been described. With this structure, Biochemists from the University ...

Researchers develop new chip for testing medicines

Oct 27, 2014

University of Twente doctoral degree candidate Verena Stimberg has developed a chip that can improve research into diseases, medicines and the possible toxicity of nanoparticles. The chip contains a man-made ...

Recommended for you

Keep dogs and cats safe during winter

17 hours ago

(HealthDay)—Winter can be tough on dogs and cats, but there are a number of safe and effective ways you can help them get through the cold season, an expert says.

Scientists target mess from Christmas tree needles

Dec 26, 2014

The presents are unwrapped. The children's shrieks of delight are just a memory. Now it's time for another Yuletide tradition: cleaning up the needles that are falling off your Christmas tree.

Top Japan lab dismisses ground-breaking stem cell study

Dec 26, 2014

Japan's top research institute on Friday hammered the final nail in the coffin of what was once billed as a ground-breaking stem cell study, dismissing it as flawed and saying the work could have been fabricated.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.