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Researchers find proton channels in plants could be key to regulating stress levels

Posted: 2024-02-07

Source: UCI School of Medicine
News Type: 

Francesco Tombola, PhD, professor in the Department of Physiology & Biophysics & Chang Zhao, former graduate student, UCI School of Medicine.

Our stress levels and immunity responses are regulated in part by our pH levels. Some components of the network that regulate pH in our cells have been identified but research in other areas are lacking, particularly the role of proton channels and the connection between pH regulation and mechanical stress.

Proton channels are membrane proteins essential in all organisms, from humans to plants. Animal and plant proton channels share similar amino acid sequences and are believed to respond to similar stimuli. However, plant proton channels are difficult to study and how they operate has remained a mystery for more than a decade.

UCI researchers recently published a study, Mechanically-primed voltage-gaged proton channels from angiosperm plants, in Nature Communications, which solves an important part of this mystery. Chang Zhao, a former graduate student in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics at the UCI School of Medicine, led the study under the supervision of Francesco Tombola, PhD, professor in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics and associate dean for graduate and postdoctoral studies at the School of Medicine. The research was carried out in collaboration with Alexis De Angeli, PhD, a plant biologist from the University of Montpellier in France.

“We discovered that plant proton channels have a function akin to a sleep mode. In this mode, they cannot operate, unless a mechanical stimulus wakes them up,” said Tombola. “We think the sleep mode is an evolutionarily conserved function and are investigating the corresponding phenomenon in human proton channels to better understand the connection between mechanical stress and inflammation.”

Researchers believe this study could lead to better ways to prevent brain damage after a stroke.