The Department of Biochemistry at the University of Oxford is a centre for world class research and teaching of all aspects of Biochemistry by staff from many different backgrounds and nationalities. Our research addresses a wide range of questions relating to the fundamental basis of all cellular life from man to microbes. This work explains the structures and functions of proteins and nucleic acids, and in doing so addresses the mechanisms of many human diseases. Using this knowledge, other researchers aim to create new vaccines, antiviral and antibacterial therapies to protect and treat humans across the world.
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Professor Francis Barr, Head of Department
Molecular dynamics simulations aid functional annotation of ion channel structures
The work was carried out in Prof Mark Sansom's laboratory in collaboration with Prof Stephen Tucker at the Department of Physics in Oxford, and has been published in Structure .
Ion channels act as pores that allow the movement of ions across the cell membrane. They play key roles in fundamental physiological processes and are especially important in electrically excitable cells within the nervous system. Ion channels are highly dynamic and can undergo conformational transitions as they move between a closed state that is impermeable to ions and an open state that allows the flow of ions. Although recent advances in structural biology are yielding an increasing array of high resolution structures, a major limitation is that the functional state of a channel (i.e., open versus closed) is often unclear. Better tools are needed to annotate the functional state of a channel.
Several ion channels exhibit a property referred to as 'hydrophobic gating'. When water and ions are present within narrow hydrophobic pores they exhibit unusual behaviour. Unfavourable interactions between water and the lining of a hydrophobic pore, promotes a 'dewetted' state that is devoid of water. Expulsion of water presents an energetic barrier to ion permeation. The ability of a pore to become hydrated therefore represents a reliable indicator of permeability.