Ion channels

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Ion channels are intrinsic proteins with a distinctive pore running through the middle. They are found in lipid bi layer membranes of cells and organelles. They allow the passage of ions in and out of cells and organelles via various modes of transport such as facilitated diffusion and active transport, and also allow a voltage gradient to be maintained. One way in which ion channels can be categorized is by their gating.

There are three types of ion gated channels:


Voltage Gated ion channels

Voltage gated ions channels are important in nerve and muscles cells. They are based around the movement of charges. For these particular cells they involve the movement of sodium (Na+) and potassium (K+) ions. These ions are imprtant at creating action potentials by the depolarising, repolarising and hyperpolarising of the internal cell membrane in relation to the outside. The Potassium gated ion channels are slower at opening and closing and this is what causes hyperpolarisation of the membrane.

Ligand Gated ion channels

Ligand gated ion channels are found on the postsynaptic membrane at a neuromuscular junction. In this case the postsynaptic membrane is that of a muscle cell. The channel is opened and closed by the binding and releasing of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. The receptor on the channel protein is called the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor and allows the passage of  Kout of the cell and Nainto the cell.

Intracellular messenger-gated ion channels

By measuring the current of a single ion channel in a single cell we can learn three things: The conductance of the channel, the open state probability of the channel, and the selectivity of the channel (i.e. which ions move across the channel) [1].


  1. Berk, A. et al (2008), Molecular Cell Biology' 7th Edition, page 1043, W.H. Freeman and Company, New York, USA.
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