Know your model.

In biomedical research, we are often trying to answer questions at different levels. By “level,” I mean from molecules, cells, tissue, organ, organ system, organism, community, and ecosystem. It is rare that biomedical research gets to the community and ecosystem level. There’s also a cost / benefit consideration to what “level” your particular research question is answering. Studying a problem at the level of the organism is much more expensive than studying a problem at the level of molecule — however one might argue that studying at the level of the organism is more biologically / clinically relevant.

cells
The cell model used in my lab, SH-SY5Y cells. Left: Non-differentiated cells, neuroblastoma, continue division. Right: Differentiated cells, stopped dividing, extended axons & dendrites, secrete neurotransmitter.

At each level, you have the thing in your lab that you are actually manipulating and observing and this thing is used to represent something greater, hopefully a more general concept. That’s known as a “model.” Continue reading

Proteins are Dynamic & Cool

These pictures are different renderings of the same molecule. It’s called the “BK Channel,” which is short for “Big Potassium (seriously) Channel.”  (K+ is the symbol for potassium ion). It’s called that because it’s the large-conductance potassium ion transporter and it’s located in the membranes of neurons — it’s job is to return the neuron to a resting potential by transporting positively charged K+ ions back into the cell that had been released during an axon “firing” an action potential. It’s essentially a component in a battery-recharge system that allows neurons to be in a state capable of doing one of its functions. The protein itself is just one of those molecules (different colors) and it self-assembles into these groups of 4 identical subunits.

kcnma1s
Different renderings of the BK Channel. It is composed of four identical subunits that assemble in the membranes of neurons. The region that is missing as a result of exposure to Methamphetamine and/or inflammatory factors is highlighted in yellow.

Continue reading