Ion channels are pore-forming proteins that help establish and control the small voltage gradient across the plasma membrane of cells by allowing the flow of ions down their electrochemical gradient. They may be classified by the nature of their gating, the species of ions passing through these gates and on the basis of number of gates (pores). There are a number of chemicals and genetic disorders, which disrupt normal functioning of ion channels and have disastrous consequences for the organism. Modulation of the properties of membrane ion channels is of fundamental importance for the regulation of neuronal electrical activity and of higher neural functions. The development of powerful new molecular biological and biophysical approaches has provided important new insights into the structure and function of ion channels and has revealed them as dynamic entities whose activity can be regulated.
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