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Scientists succeeded in obtaining an unprecedented view of a type of brain-cell receptor that is implicated in a range of neurological illnesses, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, depression, schizophrenia, autism, and ischemic injuries associated with stroke.

 

The team of biologists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory used the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory to get an atomic-level picture of the intact NMDA (N-methyl, D-aspartate) receptor should serve as template and guide for the design of therapeutic compounds.

The NMDA receptor is a massive, multi-subunit complex. CSHL researchers found that it looks much like a hot air balloon. The upper, balloon-like portion of the structure is found outside the cell and responds to chemical messengers. Those messengers act like a key to unlock the lower portion of the receptor. This lower portion, corresponding to the basket of the hot air balloon, is embedded in the neuron’s membrane. It creates a narrow channel that allows ions, or electrically charged atoms, to flow into the cell. These many subunit interactions are potential targets for drug discovery.

Learn more in the press release "Unprecedented Detail of Intact Neuronal Receptor Offers Blueprint for Drug Developers."

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