Summary
Voltage-gated ion channels are a class of transmembrane proteins that form ion channels that are activated by changes in the electrical membrane potential near the channel. The membrane potential alters the conformation of the channel proteins, regulating their opening and closing. Cell membranes are generally impermeable to ions, thus they must diffuse through the membrane through transmembrane protein channels. They have a crucial role in excitable cells such as neuronal and muscle tissues, allowing a rapid and co-ordinated depolarization in response to triggering voltage change. Found along the axon and at the synapse, voltage-gated ion channels directionally propagate electrical signals. Voltage-gated ion-channels are usually ion-specific, and channels specific to sodium (Na+), potassium (K+), calcium (Ca2+), and chloride (Cl−) ions have been identified. The opening and closing of the channels are triggered by changing ion concentration, and hence charge gradient, between the sides of the cell membrane. Voltage-gated ion channels are generally composed of several subunits arranged in such a way that there is a central pore through which ions can travel down their electrochemical gradients. The channels tend to be ion-specific, although similarly sized and charged ions may sometimes travel through them. The functionality of voltage-gated ion channels is attributed to its three main discrete units: the voltage sensor, the pore or conducting pathway, and the gate. Na+, K+, and Ca2+ channels are composed of four transmembrane domains arranged around a central pore; these four domains are part of a single α-subunit in the case of most Na+ and Ca2+ channels, whereas there are four α-subunits, each contributing one transmembrane domain, in most K+ channels. The membrane-spanning segments, designated S1-S6, all take the form of alpha helices with specialized functions. The fifth and sixth transmembrane segments (S5 and S6) and pore loop serve the principal role of ion conduction, comprising the gate and pore of the channel, while S1-S4 serve as the voltage-sensing region.
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