'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: 'Office life' of bacteria may be their weak spot

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

How bacteria battle fluoride

Sep 11, 2014

He's not a dentist, but Christopher Miller is focused on fluoride. Two studies from his Brandeis University lab provide new insights into the mechanisms that allow bacteria to resist fluoride toxicity, information ...

Synthetic molecule makes cancer self-destruct

Aug 11, 2014

Researchers from The University of Texas at Austin and five other institutions have created a molecule that can cause cancer cells to self-destruct by ferrying sodium and chloride ions into the cancer cells.

Recommended for you

Transparent larvae hide opaque eyes behind reflections

7 hours ago

Becoming invisible is probably the ultimate form of camouflage: you don't just blend in, the background shows through you. And this strategy is not as uncommon as you might think. Kathryn Feller, from the University of Maryland ...

Peacock's train is not such a drag

8 hours ago

The magnificent plumage of the peacock may not be quite the sacrifice to love that it appears to be, University of Leeds researchers have discovered.

Iberian pig genome remains unchanged after five centuries

14 hours ago

A team of Spanish researchers have obtained the first partial genome sequence of an ancient pig. Extracted from a sixteenth century pig found at the site of the Montsoriu Castle in Girona, the data obtained indicates that ...

User comments : 0