Thioredoxin donates electrons to unlock ion channels, according to a study published in Nature.

Scientists at the University of Leeds have discovered a previously unknown mechanism that opens ion channels. Until now, according to the researchers, two main groups of activating mechanisms have been acknowledged: changes in cell voltage and binding of chemical factors.

David Beech, Ph.D., and colleagues from the University’s faculty of biological sciences found that thioredoxin donates electrons to an ion channel thus activating it.

“Thioredoxin is naturally present in cells and is secreted to help the body counter stressful chemical reactions that occur in inflammation, which can damage cells,” he explains. “We already knew that inflammatory diseases cause the production of high levels of thioredoxin. In fact with rheumatoid arthritis, it’s striking how much is present in affected joints. But, we didn’t know until now that thioredoxin can also activate ion channels, conferring additional protective potential and offering opportunities for mimicking the effect with drugs.”

The research was funded by the Wellcome Trust. Findings are published in the January 3 issue of Nature.

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