The function of potassium transport channels


There is a tetrameric structure of the potassium channels where there are four identical subunits of proteins present in association to create a fourfold complex that is symmetric and assembled around the ion-conducting pore. Non-identical but four related subunits of proteins might be associated and joined together to generate a heterotetrameric complex with pseudo symmetry. Every potassium channels and its subunits contain a separate pore-loop structure which is present at the top and helps in giving selective permeability to the potassium channels. Above 80 genes are present in mammals that give rise to potassium channel subunits. These channels in the bacteria are well-studied among all the ion channels. By utilizing X-ray crystallography, much information has been derived from the transmittance of the action potential by the in and outflow of the potassium ions across these channels. Smaller ions usually do not pass through. Rod Mackinnon was presented with the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for his contribution to this field of science.

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The function of the potassium channel is to conduct the potassium ions inside and outside of the channel to generate an electrochemical gradient. They do it selectively and rapidly. These channels are needed for the nerve cells to create and transfer action potentials. They reset and act accordingly to the resting potential of the cells. In cells that can excite such as the nerve cells, the later counterflow of the ions helps in generating the action potential. They help in mediating the action potential and the time duration of the action potential in the muscles of the heart. Any malfunction in the potassium ions can result in arrhythmia. The vascular tone of the body is maintained by the potassium channels. They also mediate the cellular process like the hormone secretion like the beta cells of the pancreas secrete insulin and hence any malfunction in them can result in diseases like diabetes.

Categories of potassium channels
There are four different categories of potassium channels:

Inwardly rectifying potassium channels can transmit current easily towards the cell.

The calcium-activated potassium channel opens when there are calcium ions and other molecules that can cause signaling.

Voltage-gated potassium channel is one type of voltage-gated ion channels that closes and opens to the changes in transmembrane voltage

Tandem pore domain potassium channel is open constitutively. They show a high rate of basal activation like resting potassium.

The process:

Every neuron has a nucleus or cell body, axon, and dendrites. A cell body receives the signals with the help of hairy dendrites present on the surface and passes to the axon which has a long branch. Every axon is connected to the dendrites of an adjacent neuron.

Synapse is a junction formed between the axon and dendrite of the next neuron. The part before this junction is called pre-synaptic which has calcium gated ion channels and the part coming after it is called post-synapse which has cell surface receptors.

On receiving a stimulus or signal, an action potential is created and travels across the length of the axon of the presynaptic junction leading to the transfer of signal to the post-synaptic part.

Synapse possesses synaptic vesicles which are membrane-bound spheres comprising the neurotransmitter molecules like Acetylcholine.

A small gap is present between the presynaptic neuron and the membrane of the post-synaptic cell which is named the synaptic cleft. When an action potential reaches the neuron’s axon terminal, the following actions take place

The action potential travels to the end of the axon and depolarizes the membrane causing the interior of the cell to be more positive.

Voltage-gated potassium ion channels open to let the calcium ions flow inside.

The difference in potassium ion concentration stimulates the synaptic vesicles to liberate neurotransmitters.

Neurotransmitter attaches to the receptors of receiver cell transmitting signals. Various presynaptic and postsynaptic receiver cells generate various neurotransmitters and neurotransmitter receptors, and all these exhibit diverse interactions and different impacts on the postsynaptic cell.

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