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To Be or Not to Be ... an Inhibitory Neurotransmitter


Frank Miskevich
Biology Department
University of Michigan-Flint


Jessica and George are students struggling to understand the forces which control ions moving across membranes.  For the nervous system in particular, ions create the electrical signals neurons use to communicate with one another.  Jessica is studying how neurons change their response to the common neurotransmitter GABA, which converts from an excitatory neurotransmitter in young cells into an inhibitory neurotransmitter in more mature neurons.  This switch is not the result of changing the receptor, but rather the expression of a new protein, an antiporter called KCC2, to reduce the normal concentration of chloride in the cell.  After expressing KCC2, GABA now allows chloride ions to enter the cell rather than leave, converting GABA from an excitatory to an inhibitory neurotransmitter.  Designed for a junior level cell biology class, this PowerPoint-driven "clicker" case examines many of the types of membrane proteins which allow ions to cross membranes, and includes a discussion of the thermodynamics of ion movement across membranes to explain which direction chloride will move under different conditions.

  • Recognize the key functions and differences between pumps/transporters and channels.
  • Identify both direct and indirect active transport versus passive transport proteins.
  • Explain how both channels and pumps work cooperatively to maintain ionic balances in cells.
  • Calculate the free energy of ions moving across the cell membrane.
Keywords: Neurobiology; membrane protein; active transport; passive transport; homeostasis; electrophysiology; ion channel; gene regulation
Topical Area: N/A
Educational Level: Undergraduate upper division
Formats: PDF, PowerPoint
Type/Method: Analysis (Issues), Clicker, Interrupted
Language: English
Subject Headings: Cell Biology   Molecular Biology   Genetics / Heredity   Biochemistry   Physiology   Neuroscience  
Date Posted: 6/20/2014
Date Modified: N/A
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

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