Presynaptic voltage-gated calcium channels: binding and regulation by SNARE proteins

Electrical signals are the fastest signals in our bodies. These signals are mediated by ion channels, specialized proteins that allow particular charged ions to pass through cell membranes. One class of ion channels, known as voltage-gated calcium channels, is of particular importance. They allow calcium ions to pass through the cell membrane when an appropriate electrical signal is present. In doing so, these channels play crucial roles in regulating heartbeats, in muscle contraction and in the release of hormones and neurotransmitters. The role of calcium channels in human health is significant. Mutations in the channels cause severe genetic diseases, and many drugs that are currently used to treat cardiovascular diseases, epilepsy and chronic pain target calcium channels to limit their dysfunction. Efforts to develop new drugs are hampered by the limits of what is known about the channels, particularly about their atomic structure. Dr. Filip Van Petegram is working to shed new light on the intricate workings of calcium channels that are expressed in the heart, in the brain, and in skeletal muscle. Van Petegram uses cutting edge technologies to gain a precise understanding of calcium channels. X-ray crystallography determines a protein’s atomic structure, producing high resolution structural images that serve as excellent templates for the design of new drugs, and provide valuable information about how the channels work. Electrophysiology measures the tiny electric currents that are generated when calcium ions pass through the channels. This work will contribute to novel treatment strategies for targeting calcium channels.