A team of researchers including an Indian-origin has ended a 50-year search for the calcium channel that links many essential biological processes such as neurological disease and diabetes.
Mitochondria, those battery-pack organelles that fuel the energy of almost every living cell, have an insatiable appetite for calcium.
After decades of failed effort that relied on classic biochemistry and membrane protein purification, Vamsi Mootha, HMS associate professor of systems biology, and colleagues have discovered, through a combination of digital database mining and laboratory assays, the linchpin protein that drives mitochondria's calcium machinery.
"This channel has been studied extensively using physiology and biophysics, yet its molecular identity has remained elusive," said Mootha, who also has appointments at Massachusetts General Hospital and at Broad Institute.
"But thanks to the Human Genome Project, freely downloadable genomic databases, and a few tricks-we were able to get to the bottom of it."
This basic science finding may prove relevant in certain human diseases. "We've known for decades now that neurons in the brains of people suffering from neurodegenerative disease are often marked by mitochondrial calcium overload," said Mootha.
The study was recently published in the journal Nature.