Potassium ions (purple dots) move through an ion channel protein (coiled structure). Image courtesy of Yu Zhou.

Potassium ions (purple dots) move through the narrow opening of an ion channel protein (coiled structure) to produce electrical signals and enable cellular communication. A flexible segment of the protein that's disordered—or lacks a defined structure—temporarily blocks the passage of electrical signals after one is fired by nestling into a specific binding site. Because a protein's 3-dimensional shape determines its function, it's intriguing that an unstructured piece of one—and potentially many others—has certain tasks, too. This ion channel work could help explain why and also lead to novel ways to treat channel-related disorders, such as epilepsy, asthma and Parkinson's disease. Image courtesy of Yu Zhou. Read more... Link to external Web site

Featured in the May 17, 2012, issue of Biomedical Beat.

Learn more in the extended caption published on LiveScience Link to external Web site.