Propagation of electrochemical signals through neurons is critical for the transmission of information to and from the entire body. Extensive research in the field has provided invaluable information on the mechanisms underlying synaptic signal transmission. However, the complex structure of neurons hampers certain experiments with real neurons, leaving certain neuronal signalling aspects unanswered. To overcome this obstacle, the EU-funded ‘Action potential dynamics in a lipid nanotube - A minimal model of the neuron’ (Artificial Neuron) project developed a minimal model of neurons in order to study the active transmission of electrochemical signals. The body of the neuron was recreated using lipid bilayer model structures known as giant uni-lamellar vesicles (GUVs). The axon of the model neuron was formed by drawing out a long membrane tube of the GUV. A major achievement of the project was the incorporation of voltage-gated potassium channels (KvAPs) into GUVs, a technique that could be used to address many important questions regarding membrane proteins. Furthermore, the patch-clamp technique was adapted for GUVs to measure electrical signalling. Using this model, project scientists were able to examine the effects of membrane geometry on protein behavior. Specifically, they discovered that protein concentration was affected by membrane curvature. Artificial Neuron techniques have the potential to greatly advance our understanding of protein-membrane interactions and biological signalling. Additionally, due to the involvement of ion channels in various diseases, the project achievements have health and medical implications.
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