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Galvani’s SparkThe Story of the Nerve Impulse$
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Alan McComas

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199751754

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199751754.001.0001

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The Swinging Gate

The Swinging Gate

(p.291) 21 The Swinging Gate
Galvani’s Spark

Alan J. McComas

Oxford University Press

Newly appointed to the Rockefeller University in New York, Roderick MacKinnon embarks on X-ray diffraction studies, with the intention of eventually determining the 3-dimensional structure of voltage-gated potassium channels. He first confirms that each potassium channel is formed by four subunits, the helices of which are tilted towards the central pore. There is a cavity in the pore which can hold a single potassium ion and a shell of water molecules. The water shell is detached in the critically narrowed selectivity filter, which can accommodate four potassium ions or water molecules at a time. Finally, MacKinnon’s group show that the gates, responsible for opening and closing the channel, resemble paddles that move within the membrane as the voltage across it changes. MacKinnon shares the 2003 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work.

Keywords:   Roderick MacKinnon, X-ray diffraction, potassium channels, pore cavity, selectivity filter, gates

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