MadSci Network: Biochemistry

Re: Are Paramecium considered to have voltage-gated or ligand-gated ion channel

Date: Tue Oct 21 08:45:15 2003
Posted By: Michael Maguire, Professor
Area of science: Biochemistry
ID: 1065834173.Bc

I checked with an expert in Paramecium and ion channels to make sure I was 
correct.  The answer is almost certainly both.  His reply is below.

We're pretty sure that Paramecium has both voltage-gated and ligand-gated 
channels, but that hasn't been proven with 100% certainty as yet - at 
least with respect to the ligand-gated channels.
    We are sure that they have voltage-gated channels.  They have voltage-
gated Ca2+ channels that open when the cell bumps into something. The Ca2+ 
makes the cells go backwards.  These are the channels that get activated 
by electric current.  They also have voltage-gated K+ channels that open 
shortly after the Ca2+ channels open.  They help turn off the Ca2+ 
channels and allow the cell to start swimming forward again by 
repolarizing the membrane.
  The ligand-gated channel story is more complicated.  Cells do depolarize 
when placed in potassium chloride and calcium chloride but not because they 
interact with ligand binding sites.  Potassium and calcium ions carry 
positive charges that are attracted to negative charges on the cell 
surface. This causes local charge disturbances that open the voltage 
gated channels in much the same way that an electrical stimulus does.  But 
the cells are clearly able to respond to many chemicals in the 
environment.  Some of these signal that there is food nearby (the 
Paramecium equivalent of "smell") and some signal a threat.  Surprisingly, 
Paramecium is very sensitive to many of the chemicals that we associate 
with multicellular organisms such as humans. These include glutamate, 
aspartate, acetylcholine, and insulin, to name a few. Their genome also 
contains sequences that encode receptors for these ligands, so its very 
likely that there are indeed ligand-gated channels in Paramecium.  We just 
need to find a few good researchers with an interest in Paramecium to 
prove it!

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