Creating a free account will enable you to subscribe to our daily and weekly email newsletters, as well as customize your reading experience to show only the categories most relevant to you.
Signing up only take a few minutes, so why not give it a try and see what you've been missing out on.
Jens Chr. Skou was awarded the Nobel Prize for his discovery of the sodium-potassium pump. Now, a team of researchers from Aarhus has completed the description of its structure. A result which is of vital importance for our understanding of the body's functions and essential for our understanding of illness and for the development of new medicines.
The story of the sodium-potassium pump has strong ties to Aarhus. In 1997, he received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his discovery, and over the years, research on the pump has remained a strong focus area at the university. In 2007, the joint efforts of various research teams at Aarhus University led to the description of the structure of the potassium-bound state of the pump - now, Aarhus researchers have also described the other state of the pump; the sodium-bound state. The results were recently published in the journal Science.
The pump is pivotal to the body's function
The sodium-potassium pump is a vital enzyme found in all human cells which constantly maintains an optimal ion balance. This uses up a great deal of energy - about a fourth of the body's energy, the so-called ATP, is used to keep the pump going; in the brain the share is nearly 70%.
The sodium-potassium pump works by pumping two potassium ions into the cell and pumping out three sodium ions using the energy from an ATP molecule. This leads to a build-up of considerable differences in the concentration of the ions on the outside and inside of the cell. Differences which are essential for the communication and transport in and out of the cell of nutrients and other compounds - and for the regulation of the cell's pH and volume. If the pump does not function properly in brain cells, the result is severe neurological conditions such as migraine with aura, muscle spasms or unilateral paralysis (hemiplegia).
Knowledge of the pump is therefore crucial for our understanding of the matter and energy balance and of the disease mechanisms which come into play when the pump does not function properly. This knowledge is also important in order to develop new medicines targeting the pump.
Young interdisciplinary researchers generate knowledge
The path leading to the description of the sodium-bound state of the pump led through interdisciplinary research cooperation at Aarhus University. Sodium ions are minute and hard to detect unambiguously with a single method. But by combining a range of different methods, it was possible to piece together a complete description of the sodium-bound state of the pump.
"The description is a decisive step towards understanding the function of the pump. We now know where and how to focus future studies," says Professor Poul Nissen, one of the researchers behind the study who also spearheaded the structure description of the potassium-bound state. "But this study also points the way forward in other ways: Young researchers have been the key players in this work and have developed and made available new knowledge and methods in basic biomedical research. The discovery of the pump's secrets is not only exciting research work but also motivates the development and recruitment of new research talents to the benefit of universities and corporations alike," says Poul Nissen.
Coming full circle
By describing both sides of the sodium-potassium pump, the researchers have made an important advance towards understanding the pump discovered by Jens Christian Skou back in 1957.We now understand how the pump works as a 'molecular nanomachine', and we can observe how it is affected by mutations which cause it to malfunction. The researchers now aim to establish a more detailed description of the pump and to gain more in-depth knowledge about its function and impact on health and disease.
Science 24 October 1997: Vol. 278 no. 5338 p. 579 DOI: 10.1126/science.278.5338.579
Article adapted by Medical News Today from original press release. Click 'references' tab above for source.
Visit our Medical Devices / Diagnostics category page for the latest news on this subject.
Please use one of the following formats to cite this article in your essay, paper or report:
Aarhus University. "Nobel prize-winning sodium-potassium pump: Crucial new insight into its secrets." Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Intl., 24 Sep. 2013. Web.
10 Dec. 2013. <http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/266431>
Aarhus University. (2013, September 24). "Nobel prize-winning sodium-potassium pump: Crucial new insight into its secrets." Medical News Today. Retrieved from
Please note: If no author information is provided, the source is cited instead.
If you write about specific medications, operations, or procedures please do not name healthcare professionals by name.
For any corrections of factual information, or to contact the our editorial team, please use our feedback form. Please send any medical news or health news press releases to:
Note: Any medical information published on this website is not intended as a substitute for informed medical advice and you should not take any action before consulting with a health care professional. For more information, please read our terms and conditions.
This page was printed from: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/266431.php
Visit www.medicalnewstoday.com for medical news and health news headlines posted throughout the day, every day.
© 2004-2013 All rights reserved. MNT (logo) is the registered trade mark of MediLexicon International Limited.