Bioinspired Artificial Sodium and Potassium Ion Channels
The Alkali Metal Ions: Their Role for Life
Metal ions in life sciences, January 2016
Nuria Rodríguez-Vázquez, Alberto Fuertes, Manuel Amorín, Juan R. Granja, Rodríguez-Vázquez, Nuria, Fuertes, Alberto, Amorín, Manuel, Granja, Juan R.
In Nature, all biological systems present a high level of compartmentalization in order to carry out a wide variety of functions in a very specific way. Hence, they need ways to be connected with the environment for communication, homeostasis equilibrium, nutrition, waste elimination, etc. The biological membranes carry out these functions; they consist of physical insulating barriers constituted mainly by phospholipids. These amphipathic molecules spontaneously aggregate in water to form bilayers in which the polar groups are exposed to the aqueous media while the non-polar chains self-organize by aggregating to each other to stay away from the aqueous media. The insulating properties of membranes are due to the formation of a hydrophobic bilayer covered at both sides by the hydrophilic phosphate groups. Thus, lipophilic molecules can permeate the membrane freely, while the small charged or very hydrophilic molecules require the assistance of other membrane components in order to overcome the energetic cost implied in crossing the non-polar region of the bilayer. Most of the large polar species (such as oligosaccharides, polypeptides or nucleic acids) cross into and out of the cell via endocytosis and exocytosis, respectively. Nature has created a series of systems (carriers and pores) in order to control the balance of small hydrophilic molecules and ions. The most important structures to achieve these goals are the ionophoric proteins that include the channel proteins, such as the sodium and potassium channels, and ionic transporters, including the sodium/potassium pumps or calcium/sodium exchangers among others. Inspired by these, scientists have created non-natural synthetic transporting structures to mimic the natural systems. The progress in the last years has been remarkable regarding the efficient transport of Na(+) and K(+) ions, despite the fact that the selectivity and the ON/OFF state of the non-natural systems remain a present and future challenge.
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