Ion channel

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Ion channels are pore-forming proteins that help establish and control the small voltage gradient across the plasma membrane of cells (see cell potential) by allowing the flow of ions down their electrochemical gradient.[1] They are present in the membranes that surround all biological cells. The study of ion channels involves many scientific techniques such as voltage clamp electrophysiology (in particular patch clamp), immunohistochemistry, and RT-PCR.

Contents

Basic features

Ion channels regulate the flow of ions across the membrane in all cells. Ion channels are integral membrane proteins; or, more typically, an assembly of several 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.[2][3] 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. Some channels permit the passage of ions based solely on their charge of positive (cation) or negative (anion). However, 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. These ions move through the channel pore single file nearly as quickly as the ions move through free fluid. In some ion channels, passage through the pore is governed by a "gate," which may be opened or closed by chemical or electrical signals, temperature, or mechanical force, depending on the variety of channel.

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